Booed and disparaged before the race, unconventional Lewis Hamilton silenced his critics and re-booted his bid for a fourth world title with a record-equalling fifth British Grand Prix victory.
The three-times world champion claimed his 67th pole position and his 57th grand prix victory on Sunday to move within a point of championship leader Sebastian Vettel, seventh in his Ferrari after a late puncture.
But prior to the triumph, Hamilton was under a cloud after failing to show up for a pre-race promotional event in London, where his name was booed by fans and negative media coverage dominated the Mercedes driver’s grand prix build-up.
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff, who had been dismayed by the negative reaction to Hamilton’s decision to take a two-day break on the Greek island Mykonos rather than turn up to promote his sport, attempted to deflect the criticism.
“I think that sometimes he just needs the right impulse to extract maximum performance,” said Wolff. “I think maybe that is an answer to the critics.
“I still don’t understand why the British hero is being beaten up before the Grand Prix. It probably made him even more determined to show his fans how he can drive. And how he can drive…”
Few would argue that Hamilton is not the most uniquely talented driver in the current field with a rare gift for speed in all conditions, but many prefer to point at his unconventional, by Formula One standards, lifestyle decisions.
‘SECOND TO NONE’
In such a conservative sport, only now realising a need for change following the takeover by the American Liberty Media group, Hamilton’s arrival as the first black champion driver — notwithstanding Indian driver Narain Karthikeyan’s spell with Jordan — remains unique 10 years after his debut.
The Briton loves travelling, music, spending time in the United States and doing his own thing.
On Sunday, he ended a run of two disappointing races due to problems beyond his control, with a triumph that turned the tables on the jeerers and saw him heralded as a hero by many in the vast 125,000 crowd and ‘crowd-surfing’ with groups of fans.
“I have more poles than most,” he said. “I am obviously building up the wins that I have. My performance is second to none. If you don’t know now that my preparation is mostly on point, then I guess you never will…”
Hamilton’s point has been that he is his own man and knows what is best for him, in terms of conduct and preparation… and if that includes a beach stint on a Greek island, then so be it.
“I will be training hard next week — in different locations, as I always do,” he added, when asked about his plans before the next race in Hungary later this month.
“I will be working and focusing all week and then I will be in the UK for at least two days when I will be at the factory and then I will go to the race.”
Another master-class may be more difficult to deliver on the hot, slow and dusty Hungaroring, but Hamilton should not be faulted for his determination to succeed.
One more pole position in Hungary would lift him level with the all-time record of seven-time champion Michael Schumacher of Germany and another win would make him the championship leader ahead of Vettel, another German, as the sport heads into its European summer vacation.
Hamilton made a perfect getaway under heavy grey skies.