Over the past month or so plenty of questions have been asked of Lewis Hamilton’s mental strength. From the moment team-mate Nico Rosberg spun at Mirabeau and sealed the pole position that set him up for a game-changing win in Monaco, Hamilton has been on the rack.
Prior to yesterday the Briton had seen Rosberg bank 68 points to his 36. Hamilton been widely tipped to dominate in Canada but had to watch as his less fancied team-mate stole pole and then the lion’s share of the possible points as Hamilton suffered a brake failure. He made another mistake in qualifying in Austria and was held at bay by his team-mate, despite a determined charge.
And right up to midway through yesterday’s British Grand Prix it seemed like more pressure would be heaped upon the 2008 champion.
Saturday saw Hamilton make yet another qualifying error as he opted out of a final lap and was forced to start sixth while Rosberg started on pole. The questions about Hamilton’s mental fragility were becoming a statement: the Briton had cracked.
The race though proved different and ultimately could be as game-changing as victory in Monaco was for Rosberg, who prior to that weekend had cut a forlorn figure under the onslaught of four straight Hamilton wins.
For Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff, Hamilton’s victory at his home race reversed all the speculation about the Silverstone winner’s resilience.
“Lewis drove a faultless race,” he told reporters afterwards. “But what I want to praise most of all is Lewis’ approach. He had a bad qualifying session but he arrived at the circuit [on Sunday] morning in such a positive frame of mind and determined to perform – and he did that for his home fans. It was a great performance that showed his mental strength.”
Wolff in particular pointed to Hamilton’s reaction to a problem during his first pit stop, which resulted in him being delayed at his pit box.
“One of the examples is we had another pit stop that wasn’t perfect on the left rear,” said the Mercedes boss. “The first thing he did, he came on the radio and said: ‘guys don’t worry, let’s make the next one better.’
“Different to what the perception is, he’s mentally very strong and he could cope well with having had problems.”
Hamilton, meanwhile, spoke of his disappointment following Saturday’s qualifying error and his determination to rectify it.
“It was a kick in the balls and I had to pick myself up. I had to pull up my socks and get on with it if I wanted to win this championship,” he said. “It’s so difficult to really explain the feelings. When you feel like the world is crumbling beneath you, somehow with your family, friends and the fans, they help pull you through. After qualifying it was so hard. I really was almost speechless when I spoke to them (him family), and it was no one else’s fault but mine.
“I was just so disappointed in myself, so coming back today my priority was to turn that serious emptiness and negativity into a positive.”
He also said he felt sure he would have had the pace and the strategy to take the fight to Rosberg had gearbox failure not stopped the German on lap 29.
“It’s the first time this year that I had the different strategy,” Hamilton said. “He was going option, option, prime and I was going option, prime, option, and if I did a good enough job on the prime – as he has done in previous races – I could have attacked him on the option. That’s what I was looking forward to, but I’ll take it as it has come. Today is more [about] just solidifying belief in myself, and that recovery … I needed it, I needed it.”
Rosberg, naturally, felt that he had the race under control and would have won comfortably. “I’m very confident I would have won the race,” he said. “Things were going well until that point. We had a good balance, I felt comfortable. What can I say? It’s just a reliability problem and a pity. That’s it.”
And so, once again, the title fight is finely balanced, with Hamilton now just four points adrift heading to the last two races before the summer break.
On Saturday in Silverstone, Rosberg spoke about momentum being with him, saying that he needed to maximise the opportunities available while it existed. “At the moment the momentum seems to be on my side and I just need to make the most of it because it comes and goes,” he said.
Yesterday it went, in the most debilitating style possible, and the championship battle has been reset.
The question now is whether Hamilton can stretch the feelgood factor of his home win through the coming races and also whether Rosberg can bounce back and channel some positivity from his own (second) home race in Hockenheim. For Wolff all is as it should be.
“We have seen the momentum swing to one side and then momentum swing to the other side and I guess they’re on a pretty equal level this season and it’s going to last until the last race of the season.”