BUDAPEST // In 2008, amid the hype and hullaballoo of the Beijing Olympics, Bernie Ecclestone proposed a gold, silver and bronze medal system as a means of deciding the destiny of the Formula One world drivers’ championship.
The concept, which the sport’s chief claimed would improve overtaking, was widely panned by teams and never ratified by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, the governing body for global motorsport. Had it been approved, Lewis Hamilton would have yesterday won gold at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
As Olympic fever takes hold once more, this time in London, Hamilton – racing with a tribute on his helmet to both Team GB, his country of birth, and Team Grenada, where his family’s roots lie – said his “extra special” win meant he felt “like I’ve played my part” as his home country continues its fight for medals on home soil.
The British driver, racing for a British marque, triumphing at the only grand prix that will be held while the Olympic Games are ongoing, can look at his 25-point haul as a gold medal equivalent.
“To be able to win a grand prix on the weekend that the Olympics started in the UK too, well, I feel like we’ve done our part to contribute to what I hope will be many more British successes over the Games period,” the McLaren-Mercedes driver said after fending off a sustained challenge from Lotus to pass the chequered flag one second ahead of Kimi Raikkonen of Finland.
“Someone told me we’ve scored Britain’s first gold medal of 2012. It isn’t really that, but it’s the first British victory of the Olympic Games period, which is pretty cool.”
Hamilton had started on pole after complementing his faultless Friday with a scintillating qualifying performance on Saturday.
With Romain Grosjean, Raikkonen’s French teammate at Lotus, starting on the front row for the first time in his F1 career, Hamilton executed a strong start and maintained the outright lead for the proceeding 69 laps.
Grosjean remained close behind for the first two-thirds of the contest, but a mixture of Hamilton’s measured driving and the inability to overtake at the Hungaroring ensured he was unable to pass.
Only when Raikkonen, who had started in sixth and looked after his tyres perfectly, exited the pits alongside Grosjean on the 46th lap and expertly edged his teammate to the outside of the track, was he able to inherit second place and start to chase down Hamilton.
Yet no amount of medals on offer could have improved Raikkonen’s chances of overtaking as the two cars danced in tandem, the gap between them ebbing and flowing between 0.8 seconds and 1.2 seconds, for the remaining 23 laps. Such was the difficulty in passing that none of the 24 cars managed a single overtaking manoeuvre on the track in what must rank as the dullest race of what has been an electrifying season so far.
“It’s not so bad to follow through the last corner, but you’re one second later on the power so they pull too far away,” Raikkonen said of his passing opportunities.
“The straight is not long enough and the others are too fast, so it didn’t really give you any chance. My only chance would have been if he had run out of tyres, but that never happened.”
Hamilton in fact, nurtured the optimum out of his rubber and, although under extreme pressure, a 19th career win – his third in Budapest – never looked in doubt.
“These are the kind of grands prix, the races you win like this where you are under intense pressure from great drivers like Romain and Kimi, when you have to have your mind 100 per cent focused and I feel great.”
Hamilton, whose contract expires at the end of the season, has had his lifestyle questioned of late after he was pictured leaving a nightclub surrounded by scantily clad women. And Ron Dennis, the executive chairman of McLaren Group, put his former protege firmly in his place regarding contract negotiations when he said earlier this week that “when I last looked at the contract, I was paying him, [so] it’s a question of whether we employ him, not the other way around”.
Hamilton is expected to remain at the marque he has raced for since childhood, but yesterday’s victory will have strengthened his hand going into negotiations, which are expected to be concluded during the month-long summer break that starts this week.
“It’s quite nice to know we go into the break knowing that we had a win,” he said.
“It’s very important how we manage the summer break mentally and physically.
“There always seems to be a lot of talk about me and my private life and hopefully this will answer lots of the things that have been said. I’ve never been so committed, but I want to enjoy the last bit of my 20s because I’ve heard it’s downhill from then on. I’ve got to strike a nice balance and I think I am.”
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