Lewis Hamilton’s emotional victory in Sunday’s British Grand Prix brought him level on 27 wins with the great Sir Jackie Stewart as the second most successful British driver ever, but on Monday he paid tribute to another whose own record looms large on the horizon. Nigel Mansell is the Briton with the most race wins, 31, and as Hamilton has five to his credit in the first half of this year, five more this season will set a new record.
“I have to say Nigel has been massively supportive this weekend,” Hamilton revealed. “I watched him when I was I really young and saw what he achieved. He came to see me on the grid and out of all past drivers his support has meant most to me. He knelt down by the cockpit and said that he was proud of me and believed in me, which was really cool.”
In some ways, the title fight between Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg mirrors that between Mansell and Nelson Piquet when they were at Williams in 1986 and 1987 much more than it does the duel between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost at McLaren soon afterwards. But Hamilton admitted he is far more focused on winning back the crown he won in 2008 than breaking records.
“I want a World Championship, I’m not really focused on the other part. But to be among all those drivers is a privilege. I was looking at the [British Grand Prix] trophy – all those names, [James] Hunt, [Jim] Clark, all the greats, it’s just so cool. It’s very much a privilege.”
The championship is coming back into focus, now Hamilton has won again and is only four points adrift in the title race after Rosberg had his first retirement of the year, with the German GP at Hockenheim next on 20 July.
“When you’re 29 points behind you’re thinking, ‘Jeez, don’t lose any more points, the next seven or whatever that’s lost, that’s going to be a huge step back’, and the mountain gets bigger,” Hamilton said on Sunday. “Today is a positive because I can go to Hockenheim knowing I have great pace and if I do the job I can be ahead.”
More than anything else, winning in front of his home crowd has solidified Hamilton’s self-belief now a bad spell has ended.
“If you’re climbing a mountain and keep slipping, if you fall back a few steps after all the strength you’ve used to get there, it’s difficult,” he said, alluding to the way he won four consecutive races after retiring in the first, to claw ahead of Rosberg, only to fall behind again in Canada. “But I’m more relaxed now because today I did a good job and won in front of my home crowd.”
He denies that it is like a reset button has been pressed at the season’s midpoint, but said: “I really need to analyse things in these next couple of weeks and try to figure out how to optimise my speed and the opportunities. You can strike a line under these last few races and have a fresh start to the rest of the season.”
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, injured in Sunday’s early crash, will not take part in the two-day test due to start today at Silverstone as he rests in the hope he will be fit for Hockenheim.