Sepang, Malaysia: Lewis Hamilton said his ability to rise from adversity had helped him claim a long-awaited win in Malaysia that installed him as championship favourite and put Mercedes back on top of Formula One.
The tattooed and bejewelled Briton, 29, led wire-to-wire for his first victory at the steamy Sepang circuit in eight attempts.
It was far from a classic race, but the win ended the 2008 world champion’s eight-month barren streak and confirmed he is ready to challenge seriously for a second Formula One title.
There were celebrations at Mercedes as the famed Silver Arrows brand climbed to the top of the constructors’ ladder with their first one-two since pulling out of the sport in the 1950s.
“Incredibly happy,” said Hamilton, who finished 17 seconds ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg with world champion Sebastian Vettel third. “My first time. It’s my eighth year here and finally got that win.
“I really just owe it all to the team… it’s quite special when you get a one-two. I’ve not had many in my career and so that makes it even more special.”
Hamilton’s helmet was decorated with the words ‘Still I Rise’, from a poem by American author Maya Angelou, which he also has tattooed on his back.
He said he has drawn inspiration from the line as he fought through career and personal setbacks after becoming what was then Formula One’s youngest world champion at the age of 23.
Since then, Hamilton has not finished a season higher than fourth after his former team McLaren slipped behind Vettel’s Red Bull in the pecking order.
Following a whirl of rumour and speculation, and ups and downs with his pop star girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, he took the tough decision to leave long-term employer McLaren for Mercedes last year.
Hamilton’s past also includes a high-profile and acrimonious decision to ditch his father, Anthony, as his manager in 2010. But he said he still follows his father’s life lessons.
“It’s what I have tattooed on my back so I just added it to the helmet design and I think the metaphor is just that regardless of what difficulties you go through, you still rise above it,” he said.
“That’s really something my dad has always enforced in me. We’ve had so many ups and downs throughout our lives and our careers, as everyone has, but he would always ‘say just rise above it’ and do your talking on track.”
Despite the win Hamilton, who retired at the season-opener in Australia, remains behind Rosberg in the standings and he will be aware of the resurgence of Vettel, winner of the past four championships.
The German’s Red Bull team have struggled with Formula One’s complex new engines, but they showed they are back in the hunt with Vettel’s first podium finish of the year.
“I think it’s a question of time, how soon we manage to catch up,” Vettel said. “And then we try to give them a harder time.”