F1: ‘Smooth-sailing’ Lewis Hamilton ready to ride wave of first win for title voyage

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Relaxed opening victory for Mercedes raises hope that tyre woe is over and he can challenge Vettel

For a man who is well known for wearing his heart on his sleeve, Lewis Hamilton was in a relaxed and reflective mood after his victory for Mercedes in the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday – a win which left even the former world champion “baffled”.

Of course, everyone wanted to know if a sensational and totally unexpected triumph – his first for his new team and the first race of the season in which he genuinely felt that his Pirelli tyres had generated no problems for him – has rejuvenated what had been a fading chance of a second world title. But you sensed that behind his broad smile the 28-year-old, who was last a champion in 2008, is more concerned with his hopes that it might be a springboard to something very different, perhaps a reconciliation with his former girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger. He seemed keener on discussing that, albeit obliquely.

“Today was just a different feeling,” he said,  attempting to explain how his first Mercedes win felt in comparison to the previous 21 triumphs at the steering wheels of McLarens. “When I sat in the car at the start I swear that my heart rate was much lower than normal. I was more relaxed than I have ever been. Over the weekend my mind has just been in a different place. I was relaxed. I was able to drive at my best.

“And I lifted off way before the finish line. Normally I am still accelerating and punching the air. Today was smooth sailing across the line. I had the wind behind my back. I was just enjoying the wave that I was on. I didn’t feel like it was a relief when I came across the line. It just felt good to know that I could still do it.

“There are lots of personal reasons why it’s different this time,” he admitted. “I’m still working on getting those puzzles in place and there is a big part of the puzzle out of place at the  moment. At some stage, maybe it will come back together. It’s just the place that I’m in at the moment.

“My Dad’s been really supportive these past couple of days, and my Mum. My Dad was going to try and come out here, but he was on some track day and I couldn’t arrange him to come at the last minute. Hopefully he will come in the future.”

Perhaps an indication of the way he is preparing for the remaining nine races of the season lies in his decision not to take a holiday during Formula One’s summer break. “I had one planned but I cancelled it,” Hamilton said. “I’m just going to be training.”

He is under no illusion about the scale of the mountain Red Bull’s phenomenal competitiveness has forced rivals to climb before they can dislodge Sebastian Vettel, even though the German was beaten into third place at the Hungaroring. He has 172 points to fourth-placed Hamilton’s 124 – nearly two wins’ worth of advantage.

“We’ve got to work hard, because you never know how the tyres are going to last elsewhere,” Hamilton added. “But if we come here and make our tyres last then we should be able to do it anywhere. So, fingers crossed.

“Last year I didn’t feel like I had the car to win 10 races,” he said, referring to father Anthony’s response to the question of what he had to do to win the title. “But this year I feel I have a car that can win 10 races. The tyres are going to play a massive part of that, but I truly believe in this car. It feels awesome. It feels like it’s there with the Red Bulls and the Lotuses. Today I think our pace was very similar.

“If we can continue with that qualifying pace, get ourselves up front and have the tyres working as they did today, we can fight with them. The Mercedes is different to other cars I’ve driven. It’s one of the best. The 2008 McLaren was pretty good. I want to say the Mercedes is even better than that.”

Meanwhile, Ferrari confirmed on Monday that former Lotus technical  director James Allison will return to the Scuderia in September as chassis technical director, working alongside fellow Englishman Pat Fry who will take on the new position of director of engineering.

The moves may placate Fernando Alonso, who was left angered by the inability of his car to compete with Mercedes, Lotus and Red Bull on Sunday, and are timely after the Spaniard’s name was connected at the weekend with a possible Red Bull drive alongside Vettel in 2014.

Half-term report: What we learnt in first part of 2013...

1 Sebastian Vettel is a ruthless competitor with zero tolerance for team orders. The way he duped his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber in Malaysia, where the Australian had turned down his engine, demonstrated that with crystal clarity.

2 Lewis Hamilton’s decision to leave McLaren in favour of Mercedes was anything but the career suicide that many observers predicted. He set the seal on it in Hungary’s heat on Sunday.

3 When it comes to tyres, the combination of conditions in the British GP proved that teams are best left running the cars, and Pirelli supervising how their tyres are used.

...and what to look out for in second half of the year

1 Hamilton has the bit  between his teeth after his comprehensive Hungarian victory and will be going all-out to try to take the title fight to Vettel in the next nine races.

2 Repeats of Kimi Raikkonen’s Hungarian fight with Vettel, and his decision about his future. If the Finn does leave Lotus for a Red Bull seat alongside the German next year, fireworks will be guaranteed.

3 How the situation between the German authorities and Bernie Ecclestone plays out next month, and what effect the outcome might have on the manner in which the sport is run.

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