July 14, 2024

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Hamilton ends 945-day drought with ‘very special’ win

Hamilton ends 945-day drought with ‘very special’ win

SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) – For the first time in his illustrious career spanning three decades and 344 races, Lewis Hamilton cried as he took the chequered flag at the British Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday.

In all his previous 103 Grand Prix victories—including those that secured championships and broke records—he had been careful to keep his emotions in check. But this time was different.

“When I came across that line, I felt something inside me that I think I’ve been holding on to for a long time,” Hamilton explained on Sunday evening at Silverstone. “It was the most emotional finish to a win I’ve ever experienced. I’ve always wondered why I never cry, I always thought I didn’t cry, but this time it hit me hard.

“I think after a really tough year in 2021, we just tried to keep coming back but also, as a team, we had a really tough time and there were a lot of thoughts and a lot of doubts in my mind along the way, to the point where sometimes I wanted to not continue. So to get there and keep getting up and keep trying and finally succeed, is honestly the greatest feeling I can remember.”

His cool-down lap marked the end of a 945-day win drought, a run stretching back to the 2021 Saudi Grand Prix and the closing stages of his bruising title battle with Max Verstappen. Just a week after his 103rd career win in Jeddah, Hamilton suffered the most painful defeat of his career when the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and an eighth world title were snatched from his grasp.

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Two and a half years on from that frenetic night, the psychological scars left by then-race director Michael Masi’s controversial actions – which the FIA ​​later attributed to human error – are still evident. Asked if a win at Silverstone was the final piece of the puzzle he needed to finally move on from the events of 2021, Hamilton said: “I think only time will tell.”

His answer then turned to his decision to move to Ferrari next year and his continued love of Formula 1, before returning to the topic at hand.

“Honestly, when I came back in 2022, I thought I was over it, but I know I wasn’t over it, and it took a long time to recover from that kind of feeling — and that’s normal for anyone who has that experience. I’ve continued to try to work on myself and find inner peace day by day.”

The consequences of the 2021 season coincided with the introduction of a new set of technical rules the following year, which Red Bull perfected. Verstappen won two more titles with the seemingly invincible Red Bull, while Mercedes and Hamilton endured a frustrating period of trial and error.

The seven-time champion’s results have slipped to within touching distance of the increasingly competitive midfield in 2022 and 2023, and even at the start of this season he has not finished higher than seventh in the first five races. As he struggles with a Mercedes that is unwilling to heed his commands but all too eager to surprise him, he has also begun to battle his own demons.

“There are times when you feel like your best is not good enough,” Hamilton said, reflecting on his 945 winless days. “We live in a time where mental health is a serious issue, and I’m not going to lie, I’ve been through it too. There were definitely moments where you thought, ‘This is it, this is it.’” [winning] “This will never happen again.”

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Although Hamilton insists his decision to move to Ferrari next year has nothing to do with the results of the past two years, there is a growing risk ahead of Sunday that he could leave Mercedes without another win. Last year, Hamilton spoke of “unfinished business” with Mercedes, while his boss Toto Wolff said the team owed him another chance to win an eighth world title.

Mercedes’ renaissance this season has come too late for Hamilton to mount a serious championship challenge, but it’s clear how important it is for him to win again with the team before heading to Maranello.

“When we started the season, we didn’t expect to win at all during the year,” Hamilton said. “For me, it was a bittersweet end to the season, if you don’t have something like today. “The fact that we all came together, everyone did a great job to put the car in a place where we feel more comfortable and really changed the base from last year.

“So, we didn’t start from pole, we started from pole at the start of the race, which is our target. There’s still a long way to go – the car is not the fastest car on the grid at the moment – ​​but I think we’re very close, and I think with the next update maybe, we’ll be in a stronger position to be able to fight harder at the front more consistently.”

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No one on the track knows what it means to Hamilton like Wolff. The Mercedes team principal has seen firsthand the depth of his team’s suffering, and in his 12th season with Hamilton, he knows the extent of the damage it has done to his star driver.

“It has been so difficult over the last two years that we have not been able to deliver the performance that we need, we have not been able to provide the drivers with a car that is capable of winning,” Wolff said. “To win the British Grand Prix again in his last race with Mercedes here is like a fairy tale.”

Hamilton’s win was also a reminder of how well he can perform when the race is on the line. His recent performances compared to team-mate George Russell (who is now just one point ahead of Hamilton in the drivers’ championship) have led some to question his motivation, but his ability to hold off Verstappen and Lando Norris in the closing stages of the race was a reminder of the seven-time champion’s skill and determination.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this number means more than the previous 103 numbers.

“This is the longest I’ve gone without a win, 945 days, and there’s been a lot of emotions built up over that time,” Hamilton said. “So I feel like this race is probably one of the most special for me… if not the most special ever.”