The troubled Briton had spoken earlier in the week of his desire to be ensconced, much like his McLaren-Mercedes teammate Jenson Button, in “a happy bubble” of friends, family and positivity.
However, following an imposing victory in the third Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, he found himself soaked in globules of sparkling rosewater. Bubbles ran down the 26 year old’s face as he savoured his first win in almost four months by standing at the top of the podium with a grin as wide as the Sheikh Zayed Bridge.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Hamilton, who has endured an ill-fated season both on and off the track. “I am really happy to be back up here.”
Hamilton had started the season’s penultimate race in second place behind Sebastian Vettel, the world champion, but when Red Bull Racing’s German driver spun off after suffering a puncture at only the second turn of the first lap, Hamilton inherited the lead and held it resolutely for 55 laps.
“I didn’t know which way he was going to go, so I was just trying to avoid that,” Hamilton said of the moment he watched Vettel retire for the first time this season. “I saw immediately something happened to his tyre, but also I saw I had two very quick drivers behind me and just had to maintain the gap.”
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso finished in second place, more than eight seconds behind the winner yet 17.4 seconds ahead of Button.
The Spaniard almost stole the lead at the final pit stop, but Hamilton showed the determination to win that has seen him criticised in recent months and held on to secure his third win of the season.
“I feel fantastic,” Hamilton said. “It was one of my best races. To hold off one of the best drivers in the world is very tough to do. It’s early days, but this is definitely the start of something. We’ve got another great race ahead of us in Brazil and I’ve just got to keep my mind on the game.”
The 2008 world champion has seen his private life come under scrutiny this season following the decision to split with his father’s management company as well as enduring a high-profile separation from Nicole Schwerzinger, his long-term girlfriend.
Last night, he seemed a figure far removed from the sullen character who barely smiled in South Korea last month, despite breaking Red Bull’s monopoly on qualifying. “I definitely think this weekend I’ve been clearer in my mind with less weight on me, less thoughts about the issues that I’ve got,” he said.
He added: “When I was doing the [celebratory] lap before coming in, I was thinking this is one of my best [wins] because I didn’t make any mistakes. With the doubt and pressure surrounding me, I feel massively proud to put that kind of performance together and come out on top. And it’s my mum’s birthday which makes it even better.”
Vettel, who secured his maiden drivers’ title last in the UAE capital last year, had no such reason to celebrate this year. The 24 year old has been remarkably talkative since clinching a second successive title in Japan last month, but appeared only briefly following last night’s chequered flag.
“On the exit of the first corner, everything seemed fine and then turning into the second corner I could feel that something was odd on the rear right,” he said. “I had to catch the car surprisingly and then the second time, I couldn’t do it anymore. I had a puncture and spun off. When I got back to the pits, the resulting suspension damage meant we couldn’t carry on.”
He added: “There wasn’t anything we could have done better really this weekend; we just need to look at what had caused the puncture. I had a good start and I was very happy with the car up until that point.”
Pirelli, the tyre manufacturers who supply all 12 race teams, are investigating the incident.
Vettel will be looking to bounce back at the final race of the season in Brazil in two weeks. “To lose the race so early on, it hurts for sure,” he said. “There wasn’t much we could do, so after that I took the opportunity to learn a little bit on the pit wall.”