Lewis Hamilton says his brilliant comeback drive at Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix has resurrected his dream of fighting for an eighth world championship.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen raced to his third victory in as many outings after Charles Leclerc was cruelly eliminated from the lead when engine gremlins struck his Ferrari on lap 27 of a sizzling race at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya.
Sergio Perez took second, one place ahead of Hamilton’s ever-impressive Mercedes team-mate George Russell, with Carlos Sainz fourth.
Hamilton’s race seemed doomed after just four corners when he collided with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and sustained a puncture.
The seven-time world champion stopped for repairs and emerged last but one – 30 seconds behind his nearest competitor and more than one minute off the lead. So gloomy was Hamilton’s apparent fate that he wanted to retire his car.
But the British driver was persuaded to continue, and he then spent the next 65 laps driving the socks off his machinery to haul himself up to fifth when the chequered flag fell.
He would have finished one place better but for an overheating engine which forced him to surrender position to Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz on the concluding lap.
“Lewis, that was amazing,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, seconds after the race finished.
“You were the quickest car out there and you could have gone for the win.”
Hamilton’s race engineer Peter Bonnington added: “It is only just the beginning.” Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles joined the love-in.
“Really strong drive today, Lewis,” he said. “You were the fastest man on track.”
Hamilton might be 64 points behind new championship leader Verstappen after just six rounds.
But with 16 races still to come and Mercedes on the road to recovery, is the 37-year-old confident of a swift return to the winner’s circle?
“Yes, definitely,” he said. “We have made a lot of improvements with the car.
“If I didn’t have the issue at the start I would have been fighting the Red Bulls so that gives me a great hope at some stage we will be fighting for the win.
“I was 30 seconds behind the next driver [when I left the pits]. I was thinking this would be impossible to get back into the points but the team said: ‘no, you are on for eighth’.
“I couldn’t understand it at the beginning and I thought that they were being super-optimistic, but I decided to give it everything and see where I could finish and it turns out I was higher than eighth.
“It feels better than a win when you have come from so far back and faced that adversity.
“Since the final race of last year it has been difficult all-round. I have had difficulties with the car and constant knock-backs with safety cars and not much fortune either, so it hasn’t been easy.
“But then to come back as I did today, it felt like the olden days, and to me that is amazing.”
Mercedes’ revised floor and new front wing have helped to all but eliminate the porpoising woes which have plagued their season. Russell also impressed to secure his second podium of the year.
“Can we fight for a world championship, you bet we can,” added Wolff. “We have reasons to believe we can get there.
“If you look at the standings that is very hard to see but motor racing is a different ball game.
“We’ve seen today that Ferrari didn’t score a lot of points when they should have and we will absolutely push flat out to bring us back into the game.”
British driver Lando Norris withdrew from his post-race media commitments after he was diagnosed with tonsillitis.
The 22-year-old, who finished eighth in the 35 degree heat, was examined by a McLaren doctor after the race. But the British team are optimistic he will be fit to compete in Monaco next weekend.
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