On pole but not smiling. Troubles still weigh on Hamilton
It has been a while since Formula 1 has seen Lewis Hamilton smile, so it was a surprise that even after taking a significant pole position for McLaren in Korea his trademark, happy grin was still missing.
For the record books Hamilton's pole position represented an end to Red Bull's dominance over one lap this season. For the 2008 world champion, it meant a glimmer of redemption.
When asked directly why he wasn't smiling, Hamilton answered: "I don't feel I deserve it.
"I've had some tough races in the second half of the season but tomorrow and the rest of the races are what count, avoiding penalties and all those different things.
"[The pole] is one of the first positives. I've had some difficult races in the past and we'll try to redeem ourselves tomorrow."
Hamilton also revealed why he did not respond on McLaren's pit-to-car radio when the team congratulated him on his pole position.
"I wasn't on the radio," he said. "I hadn't heard that in a long time so it was good to hear. It was just a comforting feeling. It was satisfying to hear the guys in the background cheering so that makes me happy."
The run of bad results have been in contrast to Button, who has soared in the second half of the season, winning two of the last five races to climb to second in the championship.
Hamilton's troubles have been played out under intense scrutiny and there have been suggestions that he lacks support as he deals with a new management company, in place of his Dad Anthony, and the stresses of a long-distance relationship with pop-star girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger.
There was no escape from further scrutiny in Korea.
When he sat alongside Vettel in the first media conference of the weekend, Hamilton was asked more questions than the man who had become the sport's youngest world champion just four days earlier.
As he spoke to the media, Hamilton admitted that it would take a long time to recover.
A solitary pole may not be enough to complete the process but it could the catalyst for the start of a personal comeback, as well as proving he is back in the groove behind the wheel.
"This is just a very small step but in the right direction," Hamilton reflected. "It was important we got [pole] today and it made a significant difference."
It had been 16 months since Hamilton has been on pole and on race days he has not been on the podium since winning the German Grand Prix in July.
"Hamilton has been flying this weekend," said BBC F1 commentator Martin Brundle. "Every time he's sat in the car he's look good.
"He's got the thing alive and we haven't seen that for a while from Lewis Hamilton."
Hamilton's most immediate challenge is to convert pole into a third victory of the season at Yeongam.
McLaren have had the pace all weekend and Hamilton finished a strong second here in last year's rain-delayed race.
His chances of scoring a pole-to-flag victory could hang on tyre wear and Red Bull have opted for an opposite strategy to rivals McLaren by saving three new sets of the more durable 'soft' tyres for the race.
While Button managed his tyres to win the last race in Japan, Hamilton had to pit early when his tyres degraded badly after just eight laps and he finished a distant fifth.
But he is more optimistic that a change to his car's set-up, which he described as stiff in Suzuka, will help him nurse his tyres through the Korean race.
"The set-up that I have will definitely be easier on the tyres," Hamilton added. "The one I went to in Japan wasn't good for consecutive laps.
"I've come in a different direction which hopefully will be more beneficial in the race."
Whether Hamilton wins or not on Sunday, the embattled 26-year-old has to take this pole position as not only an opportunity to put his rivals behind him, but his troubles too.