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Hamilton ends 945-day drought, delivers ‘most special’ win

SILVERSTONE, England — For the first time in a glittering career spanning three decades and 344 Grands Prix, Lewis Hamilton was moved to tears as he took the checkered flag at the British Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday.

In all of his previous 103 Grand Prix victories — including those that secured championships and broke records — he had kept his emotions in check. This one was different.

“When I reached that line, it triggered something inside me that I’d been holding on to for a long time,” Hamilton explained at Silverstone on Sunday night. “It was the most emotional ending to a win I’ve ever experienced. I’ve always wondered why I never cry, and I always thought it wouldn’t happen to me, but this time it hit me hard.

“I think after such a tough year in 2021, we just tried to bounce back, but we also struggled as a team and there were just so many thoughts and doubts in my head along the way, to the point where sometimes I didn’t want to continue. So to get there and keep getting back up and keep trying and finally succeed is honestly the best feeling I can remember.”

His cathartic cool-down lap marked the end of a 945-day victory drought, a period without victories that stretched back to the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and the final throes of his intoxicating title battle with Max Verstappen. Just a week after claiming that 103rd victory in Jeddah, Hamilton suffered the heaviest defeat of his career when the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and an eighth world title were snatched from his grasp.

Two and a half years after that feverish night, the mental scars inflicted by then-race director Michael Masi’s controversial actions — actions the FIA ​​later attributed to human error — are occasionally visible. Asked if victory at Silverstone was the final piece he needed to finally move on from the events of 2021, Hamilton said: “I think only time will tell.”

His answer then went on to talk about his decision to join Ferrari next year and his continued love for Formula 1, before returning to the topic at hand.

“Honestly, when I came back in 2022, I thought I was over it,” he said. “But I know I wasn’t, and it took a long time to heal those kinds of feelings — that’s very normal for anyone who has that experience. I just kept trying to work on myself and find that inner peace day by day.”

The aftermath of the 2021 season coincided fortuitously with the introduction of a new set of technical regulations the following year, which Red Bull mastered. Verstappen was propelled to two more titles by his seemingly unbeatable Red Bull, while Mercedes and Hamilton wallowed in a frustrating period of trial and error.

The seven-time champion’s results have fallen to near an increasingly competitive mid-table finish in 2022 and 2023, and even at the start of this season he had finished no higher than seventh in the first five races. As he struggled with a Mercedes unwilling to respond to his commands but eager to surprise him, he also began to battle his own demons.

“There are so many times when you feel like your best effort just isn’t good enough,” Hamilton said, reflecting on his 945 days without a win. “We live in a time where mental health is such a serious issue, and I’m not going to lie, I’ve been through that. There have definitely been times when you thought that was it, that (winning) was never going to happen again.”

Although Hamilton insists his decision to join Ferrari next year had nothing to do with the results of the past two years, there was a growing risk before Sunday that he would leave Mercedes without another win. As recently as last year, Hamilton spoke of “unfinished business” with Mercedes, with his boss Toto Wolff saying the team owed him another shot at an eighth world title.

Mercedes’ revival this season has come too late for Hamilton to make a serious run at the championship, but it’s clear how much it meant to him to win again with the team before moving to Maranello.

“When we started the season it didn’t look like we were ever going to get a win during the year. That felt like a bit of a mixed bag for me at the end of the season, when you haven’t had something like today,” Hamilton said. “And the fact that we’ve all really come together, everyone’s done such a great job to get the car to a place where we’re much more comfortable and really different to where we were last year.

“So not to leave on a low, but to leave on a high, which has been our aim. There’s still a long, long way to go — the car is definitely not the fastest car on the grid at the moment — but I think we’re very close, and I think hopefully with the next upgrade we’ll be in an even stronger position to really, really fight more consistently at the front.”

No one in the paddock knows what it means for Hamilton like Wolff. The Mercedes team boss has seen the depth of his team’s struggles first-hand and, in his 12th season alongside Hamilton, he understands the toll it has taken on his star driver.

“The last two years it was so difficult that we couldn’t really find performance, we couldn’t give the drivers a car that could go for the wins,” Wolff said. “And to have him win again, the British Grand Prix, in his last race for Mercedes here, it’s almost like a little fairy tale.”

Hamilton’s win also served as a reminder of just how good he can be when there’s a chance of victory on the line. Recent performances against team-mate George Russell (who now leads Hamilton by just one point in the drivers’ championship) have led some to question his motivation, but his ability to hold off Verstappen and Lando Norris in the final stint of the race was a reminder of the seven-time champion’s skill and determination.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this one meant more than the previous 103.

“That’s the longest I’ve gone without winning, 945 days, and there’s a lot of emotion that’s built up over that time,” Hamilton said. “So this feels like it could be one of the most special for me … if not the most special.”

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