Lewis Hamilton reminded the world at the United States Grand Prix that he is “still here”, as the seven-time World Champion battled for victory right until the end of the race at the Circuit of the Americas.
After qualifying almost six-tenths behind pole sitter Carlos Sainz, it looked for all the world that Hamilton would be battling for a top five, let alone victory.
Charles Leclerc’s and Sergio Pérez’s grid penalties meant the Mercedes driver inherited third place on the grid, before rising to second on the exit of the opening corner.
George Russell colliding with Carlos Sainz allowed Hamilton to swoop around the outside of the pair, with the 37-year-old going on to look incredibly comfortable in second behind Max Verstappen.
The Brit remained a few seconds off the Dutchman, so attempted an undercut at the opening round of pit-stops.
Whilst the first attempt at an undercut failed, the second worked perfectly, as Verstappen suffered a terrible stop which dropped him behind both his 2021 rival and Charles Leclerc.
It was genuinely looking like Hamilton was going to win his first race of the year, as well as Mercedes’; however, Verstappen was simply too strong in the closing stages of the race and overtook both Leclerc and Hamilton.
Hamilton gave it “absolutely everything” to win, but simply couldn’t fend off the ridiculously fast Red Bull.
The Stevenage-born driver was, of course, disappointed to miss out with just six laps remaining, but was “proud” of his team’s superb effort.
“We were closer today so really proud of everybody,” he told Sky Sports F1.
“Sorry I couldn’t get the win, I gave it absolutely everything.
“What I will take from today is we had good pace – and I am still here. I know that when they build the car, I will take it to the top, so we just have to keep on working.”
As each lap passed in the closing stages, it was looking more and more like the Brit was going to finally return to winning ways, with his most recent victory having been at the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
He revealed, though, that Verstappen was simply too fast and that it was just too “difficult to defend” from the double World Champion.
“For a second I thought maybe we might be able to hold onto it,” admitted Hamilton.
“I could see that he was closing a second a lap and I couldn’t really answer to it for a while.
“Then he came from so far back on the straight, I think they are 10kph faster than us on the straight normally anyway and at the end of the straight my mirrors were vibrating so much I couldn’t see where he was so it was difficult to defend.”
A win really would give Mercedes something to build upon going into 2023, following what has been a terrible season for the Germans.
For Hamilton, a win at one of the final three races of the season would be “hugely rewarding”, with what “happened” in 2021 still being very fresh in everyone’s memory.
“With everything that happened last year in the last race and then everything that has been happening recently with all the news and everything… a win would be a huge triumph for us all and hugely rewarding,” he said.
The result has at least given Hamilton some much-needed confidence, as he now sits just four points behind Carlos Sainz in the Drivers’ Championship.
Hamilton will be wanting to break into the top five so that he can go into 2023 with at least something to celebrate.
He’s remaining defiant that 2023 will see Mercedes return “to the top”, something that is very much likely with team boss Toto Wolff having revealed that the team “understand” why their 2022 challenger was a failure.
“We understand more now where we got it wrong with the car,” Wolff told Sky Sports F1.
“You can almost trace it back to a silly decision last October when we thought we could run the car on the deck but you can’t.
“So, it is small little hamster steps and as long as the trajectory is going up then I think we are on a good path.
“We will have 14 per cent more wind tunnel time than Red Bull next year and that should reel them in a bit.”
“The pace was maybe two tenths off and that is what we were missing at the end but credit to Red Bull, they have done a good job all year and it was really strong so them winning the constructors’ championship today is what they deserve.”