Luckless Lewis Hamilton needs to catch a break at Hungarian GP
Three hours after the German Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was playing chess with his trainer as he waited for his usual news conference with the British written media.
Even if Hamilton admitted he was no good at the game - "I've lost eight times out of nine games we've played," he said - it was a scene that belied the cliched, and false, image of the Mercedes driver as a sportsman who relies mainly on instinct and puts little thought into his racing.
It was also appropriate after a race that, for all its excitement and wheel-to-wheel battles, had elements of a chess match to it for the Briton.
Starting 20th on the grid, following a brake failure in qualifying, he knew he had to make up places fast.
The plan - the requirement - was to get as close to the front as possible by the end of the race to limit the championship damage inflicted by team-mate Nico Rosberg - who, as Hamilton expected, took the almost inevitable win that results from a Mercedes driver starting on pole without the other alongside.
Yet at the same time Hamilton knew he could not afford to make a mistake. "If I'd got caught in a collision with someone and lost points, that would have been really devastating," he said. "But I stayed clear, just about."
Hamilton had to pick his moves carefully as he fought through the field - far from easy given the frenetic midfield action that characterised a race which was enthralling from start to finish, Rosberg's cruise at the front aside.
Inevitably, with the need to pass so many cars, there were a couple of heart-in-mouth moments for the former world champion.
The first came on lap 13, when he passed Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull three abreast into the tight Turn Five hairpin.
Raikkonen was pincered somewhat with Hamilton on his inside and Ricciardo his outside, and the Finn lost a part of his front wing against Hamilton's wheel, but there was no damage to the Mercedes.
The next incident almost certainly cost Hamilton second place. Homing in fast on Jenson Button's sixth-placed McLaren heading towards the same corner on lap 30, Hamilton was on the inside and closing, but too far back to attempt a pass.
As they approached the corner, however, Button ran wide and Hamilton thought his ex-team-mate was letting him through, as he had in a couple of previous races.
He wasn't. They collided, and Hamilton's front wing end-plate was damaged. "My bad on judgement there," Hamilton said afterwards.
The incident tore off most of Hamilton's left front-wing end-plate, costing him a chunk of front downforce and probably something like 0.3 seconds a lap.
Initially, Mercedes planned to stick to their pre-race strategy of two stops, but as the laps ticked by it became apparent that the aerodynamic loss was using up the tyres too quickly and they had to change tack.
That meant a three-stop strategy and two stints on the faster but more fragile super-soft tyres in the last 25 laps of the race.
The plan was for an 11-lap stint followed by a final one of 14, but then came Hamilton's next dose of bad luck in a season that has so far been littered with it.
On lap 49, Adrian Sutil spun his Sauber at the last corner and came to rest in the middle of the pit straight.
It was the sort of incident that usually triggers the safety car, and Mercedes had no choice but to bring Hamilton in on the next lap - not doing so would have been too big a risk if the safety car had come out.
As it turned out, though, it did not - a decision Hamilton criticised on safety grounds afterwards - and that left him needing to do 17 laps on a set of super-softs to the end of the race, and still needing to catch and pass both Fernando Alonso's Ferrari and Williams' Valtteri Bottas to claim second.
Alonso was no problem, and after passing him Hamilton was seven seconds behind Bottas with 12 laps to go.
He had caught the Finn five laps later, but by then the best had already gone from the tyres, and to have any chance of second he had to make the move immediately, before they went completely.
|Mercedes Formula 1 season so far|
|Nico Rosberg||Lewis Hamilton|
|Australia - 1st||Australia - Retired|
|Malaysia - 2nd||Malaysia - 1st|
|Bahrain - 2nd||Bahrain - 1st|
|China - 2nd||China - 1st|
|Spain - 2nd||Spain - 1st|
|Monaco -1st||Monaco - 2nd|
|Canada - 2nd||Canada - Retired|
|Austria - 1st||Austria - 2nd|
|Britain - Retired||Britain - 1st|
|Germany - 1st||Germany - 3rd|
Bottas, though, used the low-drag Williams' strong traction and straight-line speed to coolly hold him off, and there was nothing Hamilton could do.
It had, nevertheless, been a strong drive, and yet at the end of it he had lost another 10 points in the championship to Rosberg, who is now 14 ahead with nine races remaining.
After moving to within four points following his victory and Rosberg's retirement at Silverstone two weeks ago, it was another blow for Hamilton in a season in which he has taken plenty so far.
And so, for the third time in 10 races, he is faced with the need to recover points on his team-mate through no fault of his own.
"I'm happy about fighting hard," Hamilton said. "I'd never want to have it easy. I love the challenge I'm having but it's difficult, I have to say."
His natural speed looked like it might well have resulted in pole and a win in Germany, had it not been for his brake failure midway through the first qualifying session.
He and Rosberg had been as closely matched as ever through practice, but Hamilton was flying in the few laps he had in qualifying before his crash, while Rosberg was struggling with his brakes.
"I put on new brakes for qualifying and there was something not right with them the whole of qualifying," the German said. "It was difficult for me to get into it and I didn't feel comfortable all the way through."
Even now, with two retirements to Rosberg's one and the brake failure for Hamilton in German qualifying, Hamilton has won five races this season to Rosberg's four.
That, along with Hamilton's slight advantage in natural speed, will be some comfort to him. But he will still need the cool head of a chess grand master to cope with these continuing disappointments, something he is doing well so far.
With the teams arriving in Hungary on Thursday, Hamilton will not have long to wait to try to claw back some of those points, and he could not be going to a better place to do it.
Hamilton has won at the Hungaroring four times in seven years and for the last two seasons - and last year he out-qualified Rosberg there by three places and 0.332 seconds. It has almost become his race.
"I don't really have any secrets there," Hamilton said, "but if I've ever been fortunate it's been at that race.
"I have great support from the fans and it's a circuit I've really enjoyed.
"It's a circuit where you can attack so it suits an attacking driver like myself and maybe it suits me more than some others."
He will head there hoping that fortune does not play its tricks on him again and that the battle between the two Mercedes drivers comes down simply to man against man.