HOCKENHEIM, Germany (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton earned his blockbuster wages on Sunday with a German Grand Prix victory that will go down in the annals of the sport.
The four-times Formula One world champion, now the winner of 66 races, struggled to keep his emotions in check on an afternoon that saw him rise from 14th on the starting grid to finish first.
“Today I feel like I drove the best that I can remember driving,” declared the Briton, who had vowed to race as if his life depended on it after his Mercedes broke down in Saturday qualifying.
“There have been other great ones: Silverstone 2008 was pretty great, but I went off (there) so 99.8,” he said. “This one, I didn’t make any mistakes at all.
“It’s been the most emotional day. Up and down,” added the 33-year-old, who was summoned to see stewards more than an hour after the end of the race for a pitlane infringement and given a reprimand.
“Today is one of the most unbelievable days for me because... I prayed as I always do before the race and my prayers were really answered. It freaks me out a little bit more than normal.”
Hamilton had started the weekend with the announcement of a new two-year contract worth a reported 40 million pounds ($52.55 million) a year.
He had also arrived in Hockenheim on the back of a home defeat at Silverstone to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who had boasted about beating his rival in Britain and taking the British flag back to Marenello.
On Sunday, with a delighted Mercedes-Benz chief executive Dieter Zetsche watching, Hamilton replied in style to turn an eight point deficit to Vettel — who crashed while leading — into a 17 point lead.
The rain that brought chaos in the last 20 laps helped but Hamilton saw that as his opportunity to shine, and made the most of it to lead team mate Valtteri Bottas in a Mercedes one-two finish.
“We got all the luck back that we didn’t have in the last few races,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.
“Losing points or positions through accidents or the double DNF (non-finish) in Austria, being in the lead with a one-two. We got the one-two back today.”
Asked whether the win made him feel good about the millions paid to the driver, the Austrian smiled.
“He gives me that feel-good feeling since 2013,” he said.
“The difference between the best and the very good is that on the very difficult days they are just able to make the difference. And he’s one of them.”
($1 = 0.7612 pounds)
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge