Lewis Hamilton is on the crest of a wave after third straight British Grand Prix victory

Graham Caygill looks at how the Mercedes-GP driver Hamilton has bounced back to give his teammate Rosberg a real drivers’ title challenge.
Mercedes-GP’s English driver Lewis Hamilton is held aloft by fans after winning the British Gand Prix at Silverstone yesterday. Andrew Boyers / Reuters
Mercedes-GP’s English driver Lewis Hamilton is held aloft by fans after winning the British Gand Prix at Silverstone yesterday. Andrew Boyers / Reuters

Six weeks ago as Lewis Hamilton arrived in Monte Carlo for the Monaco Grand Prix, his dreams of winning a third successive drivers’ championship and a fourth of his career were looking slim.

Winless in the opening five races, partly through a combination of bad luck and his own mistakes, the Briton was 43 points adrift of Mercedes-GP teammate Nico Rosberg.

Everything had appeared to be going Rosberg’s way. The mechanical problems were all falling Hamilton’s way and the world champion also appeared incapable of getting his Mercedes off the line even half well at the start of a race.

Hamilton was also facing the history books as Rosberg had won the first four races of the season and no driver who has ever done that previously has not gone on to be world champion that season.

Yet, fast-forward to on Sunday and Hamilton, after winning his fourth grand prix in five races at the British Grand Prix, is now only one point adrift of Rosberg with 11 races of the season to go.

It has been a sensational recovery, largely built on Hamilton’s superior raw pace behind the wheel, some elements of fortune going in his own direction, and the familiar failings of Rosberg rearing its head.

Hamilton would have always been confident of making inroads into Rosberg’s advantage, but to have pulled it back so quickly, given the Mercedes remains the fastest car on the grid, has been the surprise.

It has been Rosberg’s turn to have problems, most of his own making, and the fact he has not finished on the podium in any of the races won by Hamilton this season is why the margin between the pair is so close again.

Hamilton has been quick all year, that has never been the issue. His inability to have problem-free weekends, either in qualifying or the races, were what led to his deficit to his teammate.

Sunday was the kind of day that Hamilton has yearned for, but found so rarely in 2016. A quiet afternoon at the front, in control of his own destiny, and rarely threatened as he cantered to victory.

After the race had been disappointingly, but understandably given the standing water in some areas of the Northamptonshire circuit after a big rain shower, started behind the safety car, Hamilton made his move as soon as the racing began.

He pulled away from Rosberg in the treacherous conditions as he opened up a lead of six seconds by the time that he pitted for intermediates as the track quickly dried out.

Once he had that cushion he was content to pace himself for the rest of the afternoon, never allowing the gap to close to within less than three seconds as Rosberg squabbled for second spot with the impressive Max Verstappen’s Red Bull Racing car.

Of his tactics, Hamilton said: “I was very comfortable at the front, I was watching the times from the guys behind.

“I had more. In those conditions you don’t want to risk anything.”

• More: Results| Rosberg penalty| Crashing good| Verstappen joy

It was a mature drive, befitting a world champion, and Hamilton will want many more of these kind of days between now and the end of the season at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 27.

His day got even better when Rosberg, who had finished second after making full use of his Mercedes car’s speed in the dry to retake Verstappen for second after being passed in the damp conditions, was relegated back behind the Dutchman post-race in third after race stewards penalised him and Mercedes for illegal radio messages.

Rosberg had suffered gearbox problems late in the race, and had been advised by his race engineer to avoid using seventh gear. This infringed the rules on advice that drivers are allowed to receive from the pit wall and led to the penalty being imposed.

Before he had spoken to the stewards, Rosberg had defended Mercedes for giving him the instructions.

“It was a very critical problem because I was stuck in seventh gear and I was about to stop on track,” he said.

“They told me to change to default [settings] and try and fix it.”

It is another setback for Rosberg, and sums up a miserable past seven days, coming after his bungled attempt to keep Hamilton behind him in Austria ended in him falling to fourth.

The momentum is now with Hamilton and it is vital that in the two races before the summer break, Hungary and Germany, he beats Hamilton fair and square to kick-start his fading title bid.

GRAHAM CAYGILL’S REPORT CARD

Star performer, Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) A fine afternoon’s work from the Dutchman. He overtook Nico Rosberg around the outside in the damp conditions and put up an impressive defence against the Mercedes-GP man for a period when it dried out.

Underperformer, Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) A disappointing afternoon for the four-time world champion as he spun off mid-race and then received a time penalty for a clumsy overtaking attempt on Felipe Massa. Ninth summed up a poor day.

Key moment Lewis Hamilton’s weakness this year has been his starts, and having it behind the safety car due to the rain before the race took away that problem. Hamilton opened up an lead in the early laps and was comfortable from there on.

Our verdict Hamilton controlled things beautifully at the front, but the racing between Rosberg and Verstappen was terrific. The rain mixed up the order in the opening laps and made for action up and down the grid.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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Published: July 10, 2016 04:00 AM

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