Lewis Hamilton breathed life into the Formula 1 title race on Sunday with a commanding drive to victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Where Sebastian Vettel had seemed in control of the championship race and on course for his fourth consecutive title, now things look a little less certain.
At the very least Mercedes’ form in the second half of the season will complicate the picture, but a string of wins could bring Hamilton into contention.
The Briton, who had not stood on the top step of the podium since the United States Grand Prix last November, led away from pole position and never really looked back. That was his fourth success at the Hungaroring in seven visits and first for new team Mercedes, who he joined this year after six seasons with McLaren.
The 2008 world champion has scored 74 points in the last five races, compared to championship leader Sebastian Vettel’s total of 83 in the same period. So since the Monaco Grand Prix, Hamilton has shown championship contending form.
Mercedes have had seven poles in the 10 races this season, with three victories in the last five races, and are certainly a team who are in the ascendancy. The key will be whether they can maintain that form.
As their qualifying form suggests, they have been strong over one lap but they struggle to get the tyres into the operating window on long runs and have therefore tailed off in the races. But Hamilton said: “If we can make the tyres last here [in Hungary], we can do it anywhere.
“I feel like I have the car to win ten races,” he added. “The tyres will play a massive part, but I truly believe in this car. The tracks coming up should suit me. I’m really looking forward to the second half of the season.”
Vettel still remains favourite to collect his fourth successive drivers’ title. The Red Bull driver has a 38-point lead over nearest rival Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus, with Hamilton a further 10 points behind.
Hamilton’s return to form will complicate the championship now and if Mercedes’ good run continues, with Nico Rosberg, who has won twice this season, also delivering, Vettel’s nearest contenders Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso will find it difficult to recover the points deficit.
Hamilton was cautious when asked about talk of a championship challenge. “When you have a win like this, you get excited and think anything is possible and this shows it is,” he said. “But it is still too early to say whether or not we can challenge.”
“I know the team are working hard so that we can close the gap and I hope today is the first step in doing so, but we’ve got a lot of tough races coming up. I just hope that’s not the last time my tyres work for me.”
Hamilton dedicated his victory to ex-girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, who he said he was thinking about during the race. The pair split up earlier this month. “I feel a little bit odd without that someone here,” he said. “The thought on my mind through the whole race was of someone who is special to me and I wanted to dedicate it to her. It’s been the toughest couple of months of my life.
“To come here, after a real downer for the last few weeks, I just wasn’t expecting it [the win]. I’m so proud of the team and grateful for all the hard work, and for [Mercedes boss] Ross [Brawn] for giving me the opportunity to be part of the team.
“Over the weekend my mind has just been in a different place. There are lots of personal reasons why it is different this time. I am still working on getting those puzzles in place and there is a big part of the puzzle out of place at the moment. I didn’t feel like it was a relief when I came across the line. It just felt good to know that I could still do it.”