LEWIS HAMILTON has described his dramatic crash with Nico Rosberg at the Spanish Grand Prix as the turning point in his season after moving six points clear of his Mercedes team-mate with a record-breaking victory in Hungary.
The defending champion leads the Formula 1 championship for the first time this season after he beat pole-sitter Rosberg on the long run down to turn one on the opening lap, and from there controlled the race.
It was a masterful Hungarian Grand Prix victory from Hamilton, and one which never appeared in doubt after arguably his best start of the season.
He has now won at the Hungaroring on five occasions – more than any other driver in the sport’s history.
Hamilton was 43 points behind Rosberg after they collided on the opening lap at the Barcelona race in May, but after winning five of the six subsequent races, Hamilton will head to Germany next week – the final round before the summer break – in charge of the title race.
“I think Spain was definitely a turning point,” said Hamilton.
“It didn’t feel like it was, but it was rock bottom. The only way was up.
“I just managed to get my head together, and get my s*** together and get on with it.”
The early part of Hamilton’s title defence was curtailed by mechanical issues and bad luck.
Mercedes swapped a number of mechanics from his championship-winning side of the garage to that of Rosberg’s ahead of the new campaign, and Hamilton also faces starting at least one of the remaining 10 races from the back of the grid under the sport’s complex engine rules.
“I have less engines, my mechanics had been changed, and all these different things didn’t seem to be working,” Hamilton added.
“But since Spain we’ve pulled together, and I’d love to come out of the next race with a result like this so when I do go to Spa or Monza, and have a penalty and start from the pit lane or last place, that is a minimum damage.
“It doesn’t mean I’m 25 points behind. I don’t really want to go back to there.”
At one stage of yesterday’s rather uneventful race, Hamilton was told to improve his pace by Mercedes with Rosberg falling into Daniel Ricciardo’s clutches before the second and final round of pit stops. Sceptics suggested that the Briton may have been driving within himself in a ploy to give Ricciardo a chance of passing Rosberg.
But Hamilton said: “I wasn’t backing Nico up.
“He could have closed the gap if he wanted to.”
Rosberg did not, and will head to his home race behind Hamilton in the championship.
Ricciardo crossed the line a distant third while Sebastian Vettel finished fourth for Ferrari.
Max Verstappen held off Kimi Raikkonen to finish fifth.
Jolyon Palmer appeared on course to earn the first point of his career, but the British rookie spun while running in 10th and dropped to 12th.
Afterwards, Palmer labelled his race a “disaster”.
“I’m gutted because it was there, and obviously it’s a disaster,” he Palmer.
“It was the best drive of my career but then I spun and we didn’t get any points. It should have been the first points of my F1 career. Everything was perfect.
“It was completely in my grasp. We did a good strategy, a good pit stop, and the pace was good. I felt great in the car. But then I just lost it. I don’t know why.”
Jenson Button, meanwhile, endured a miserable afternoon after a hydraulic issue in the opening laps dropped him to the back of the field. He was told to continue which prompted a rather sarcastic reply. “Fantastic,’’ he said. “Race from hell this is going to be.’’
And so it proved to be, as Button spent most of the race at the back before he retired with only a handful of laps remaining.
Later, due to a controversial clampdown on the sport’s radio rules, he was subsequently handed a drive-through penalty by the stewards.
“It’s a stupid regulation,” said Button. “I completely understand that drivers should not be fed information that helps us drive the car. But when it’s a safety concern with the brake pedal going to the floor, you shouldn’t be penalised for stopping an accident, and that’s what we did today.”