The grand prix at Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi didn't go as expected for Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel. In fact, it barely "went" at all. The World Champion slid into this weekend with a record-tying 14 pole positions in one season but come Sunday, fortunes turned at turn two.
Suffering a right wheel failure, Vettel retired from the race and handed the lead over to McLaren's Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton lead the remainder of the race and took a convincing win from Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and McLaren teammate Jenson Button. Lewis said:
"This result is just fantastic. I'm usually my own biggest critic - I'm always hard on myself when I make mistakes - but I really felt like I maximised everything today. To be able to sustain that kind of pace, under constant pressure, and not make mistakes, is really satisfying. For most of the race I was concentrating on managing the gap to Fernando [Alonso]. He's such a strong driver. He'll never give you an inch, in fact. Into the closing laps I found myself beginning to think about victory, but I didn't want to do that really so I kept saying to myself: 'Don't even go there!' It worked: I stopped my mind from wandering and I didn't allow myself to think about the win until I'd crossed the line.
To have Jenson on the podium alongside me was great - great for me, great for him, great for the team, and a great boost as we move towards the end of the season. The team has been fantastic all weekend - the strategy, the pitstops, everything - really top-class. The whole package came together today and I owe everyone a big thank-you. This is so uplifting - for the team and for me. To be able to walk away with a smile feels just fantastic: victory is good for the soul."
That's all good news if you are in the McLaren camp but perhaps bigger news is the smile that crept across the face of Hamilton shedding the frown of 2011. The British driver has faced a tremendous amount of difficulty this year and today's victory just may pave a healing path back to the front.
Hamilton has had collisions, poor performances and mentally difficult races in 2011. The announcement of his split with long-time girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger is rumoured to be the single element weighing on him in his personal life and affecting his professional drives.
It's not been easy for Lewis having come together with Ferrari's Felipe Massa six times this year and the continual trips to the race stewards for penalties and reprimands only piled onto a season of tumult.
It's difficult to say exactly what has been weighing heavy on Hamilton. His broken relationship with Nicole, the relationship with his father, his new management, the pace and fortune of his teammate Jenson Button or the difficult car could all be parts of the equation. Perhaps they are all knock-on effects of a season that has found his mental focus drifting from being a champion to being a young man maturing and facing life's challenges. It's all supposition.
What is very refreshing is the wonderful smile that Lewis displayed Sunday. It was a genuine smile that kept overpowering a frown that had set up shop and claimed the majority of Lewis's face for the season.
Try as it might, the frown couldn't hold ground and the smile flashed his brilliant charm and exposed the real reason Hamilton is in F1 - to win. I'm no psychologist but I would argue that the win was a much-needed result in order to start a healing process in the off season. While time is the grand equaliser for thing such as these, a smile can be the launching pad for a re-invigorated Lewis in 2012.
Lewis Hamilton is a champion. He's a wonderful driver and a fierce competitor but sometimes we lose sight of the one thing we all share with him - his humanity. He, like all of us, faces lost loves, difficult business situations and an off performance. We've all been there and like many of us, getting our smile back has done a world of good.
Sometimes it is hard for to know what it takes to get our smile on but today's victory was obviously what it takes for Lewis. A Lewis on his way back.
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