Tue. Jun 28th, 2022

Lewis Hamilton had to be dragged back from the brink of despair in scorching Barcelona but now believes he can once again conquer the world.

That was after the seven-time world champion tore through the field from last-but-one to finish fifth in the Spanish Grand Prix, a turnaround which may yet, just possibly, allow him a glimpse of the eighth title he craves as his valedictory statement.

It will require a monster comeback, from 64 points adrift of Red Bull’s new championship leader Max Verstappen, who capitalised on Charles Leclerc’s mechanical failure to win yesterday — but it is not so remote a shot as it seemed at Turn 4 of the opening lap, when he and Haas’s Kevin Magnussen clipped each other.

Max Verstappen celebrates winning the Spanish Grand Prix after leading home a Red Bull one-two at the Circuit de Catalunya

Max Verstappen celebrates winning the Spanish Grand Prix after leading home a Red Bull one-two at the Circuit de Catalunya

Max Verstappen celebrates winning the Spanish Grand Prix after leading home a Red Bull one-two at the Circuit de Catalunya

Lewis Hamilton, the resurrection man, will be encouraged by his car's performance in Spain

Lewis Hamilton, the resurrection man, will be encouraged by his car's performance in Spain

Lewis Hamilton, the resurrection man, will be encouraged by his car’s performance in Spain

Hamilton suffered a puncture, was reshod and languishing more than a minute off the front.

He came on to the radio practically begging to retire from the race on lap five. ‘I would save this engine if I were you,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry.’ What? This renowned fighter settling for a siesta in the sun? Was he not even going to attempt to roll the stone away from the tomb?

Then came the encouraging intervention of his race engineer Peter Bonnington: ‘We still feel we can achieve points. P8, maybe better.’

The Red Bull star takes the chequered flag in Barcelona on a dream weekend for the Dutchman and his team

The Red Bull star takes the chequered flag in Barcelona on a dream weekend for the Dutchman and his team

The Red Bull star takes the chequered flag in Barcelona on a dream weekend for the Dutchman and his team

The results from Spain as Max Verstappen once again impresses but Mercedes improve their performance

The results from Spain as Max Verstappen once again impresses but Mercedes improve their performance

The results from Spain as Max Verstappen once again impresses but Mercedes improve their performance

Hamilton’s early progress was heavy going before he charged up to fourth, then had to ‘lift and coast’ on the final lap to manage his engine, thus allowing Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari back past.

Never mind. Still, what a day for Mercedes, who saw their upgrades — a revised floor and new front wings — deliver on a great deal of their hopes of smoothing and hastening their hitherto bouncing brute of a car.

Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell was every bit as impressive as Hamilton, perhaps even more so, in taking third place behind the Red Bull one-two of Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

Lewis Hamilton recovered from 19th after a first lap puncture to fourth before a late water leak dropped him to fifth

Lewis Hamilton recovered from 19th after a first lap puncture to fourth before a late water leak dropped him to fifth

Lewis Hamilton recovered from 19th after a first lap puncture to fourth before a late water leak dropped him to fifth

Hamilton, who had started sixth and full of doubts, said he ‘definitely’ thought wins were zooming into range now. And team principal Toto Wolff, asked if Mercedes could wrest the title over the next 16 races and possible 416 points, said: ‘We bet we can.’

Relief sizzled on radio during the warm-down lap. ‘Lewis, that was an amazing race,’ said Wolff. ‘You were the quickest car out there and you could have gone for the win. Amazing.’ Bonnington added: ‘It is only just the beginning.’ Chief strategist James Vowles: ‘You were the fastest man on track.’

If there was a trace of kidology in those words, there was substance too. Hamilton had eaten into Verstappen’s advantage and finished 54 seconds back. It would have been some way narrower but for the precautionary slow last lap-and-a-half he was forced into.

‘I am so happy,’ declared Hamilton. ‘If you think back to Jeddah (in March), I started 15th and I struggled to get into the top 10, so I was thinking it would be impossible to get back into the points but the team said, “No, you are on for eighth”. I couldn’t understand it at the beginning and I thought they were being super optimistic.

Verstappen now leads the world championship by six points as he celebrates victory with Red Bull chief Helmut Marko

Verstappen now leads the world championship by six points as he celebrates victory with Red Bull chief Helmut Marko

Verstappen now leads the world championship by six points as he celebrates victory with Red Bull chief Helmut Marko

‘But I gave it everything to see where I could finish. I thought if I was going to be at the back I should save the engine to fight another day, but I am glad we didn’t. It just shows never to stop or give up.’

Yes, it was a comeback on the day but also in the wider context of the preceding few months — a trauma that started by losing the title to Verstappen on the last day of last season. Aged 37, the years are inescapably ripening, too, and Russell is as fast as a rocket.

‘Since the end of last season it has been difficult all round,’ admitted Hamilton. ‘There were difficulties with the car. Then constant knockbacks with safety cars that didn’t work out in my favour.

‘Not having much fortune generally — then to keep getting back on the horse and keep pushing has been hard. To come back today felt like the olden days, and to me that is amazing.

‘There was a young girl I spoke to yesterday who was my inspiration, Isla. She is five and terminally ill and she said to me to win the race for her. Hopefully that was like a win and I dedicate it to her.’

Verstappen was joined on the podium by team-mate Sergio Perez as well as third placed driver George Russell (right)

Verstappen was joined on the podium by team-mate Sergio Perez as well as third placed driver George Russell (right)

Verstappen was joined on the podium by team-mate Sergio Perez as well as third placed driver George Russell (right)

Away from Hamilton, Verstappen was helped by a dollop of luck —the retirement of the front-running Leclerc on lap 27 of 66 — to secure his third victory in as many races. He did so despite problems with an occasionally non-functioning DRS that tried his patience to the limit. Fired up, he garbled irate messages over the radio and used the disruption as further fuel on his fiery temperament.

‘We can’t even make the f****** DRS work, man — unbelievable!’ screamed Verstappen, who made one uncharacteristic detour off track before driving superbly to go six points clear of Leclerc.

Lando Norris, who finished eighth, was seen by medics after ailing all weekend with suspected tonsillitis and withdrew from his post-race media duties. ‘The team are now ensuring he is receiving a full health check,’ said McLaren.

Verstappen made a mistake to drop to fourth behind team-mate Sergio Perez, as they got caught behind Russell

Verstappen made a mistake to drop to fourth behind team-mate Sergio Perez, as they got caught behind Russell

Verstappen made a mistake to drop to fourth behind team-mate Sergio Perez, as they got caught behind Russell

The most thrilling duel in the 35°C heat came on lap 24 when Verstappen, with a working DRS for once, found himself on the tail of Russell on the 200mph straight.

Verstappen plunged down the inside of the first corner. Russell, who had moved from fourth to third at the start, bravely kept his foot down and wriggled ahead at the second bend. And then the Brit held on, as each of the 24-year-olds somehow avoided contact in their close dance.

Verstappen finished in front of Russell once all the stops had been made to carry momentum into Monaco this week. But we can say with some assurance that reprises of the Max-George duel will sustain us down the next decade, two superb drivers, brave and fast.

Hamilton, the resurrection man, will not still be around then. But, as he showed, he has not exited the stage yet.

RE-LIVE ALL THE ACTION AS IT HAPPENED… 

Here is Sportsmail’s live blog for updates as the Formula One campaign continues at the Spanish Grand Prix. 

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