Yeongam (South Korea): Lewis Hamilton allowed himself a flicker of a smile on Sunday after a Korean Grand Prix performance that his McLaren team hailed as one of his dazzling best, even though he did not win.
Seemingly down in the dumps and definitely muted the previous day despite ending Red Bull`s stranglehold on pole position, the 2008 world champion pulled off a masterful display of defensive driving to secure second place in the race.
For some 30 of the 55 laps he held off Red Bull`s Australian Mark Webber, the cut and thrust of their duel providing most of the afternoon`s excitement in a race that crowned Red Bull constructors` champions for the second year in a row.
"I think Lewis`s drive today was utterly inspirational," said principal Martin Whitmarsh, whose team were celebrating their 700th grand prix.
"He may be downplaying it, because he`s a perfectionist and he wanted to win, but to withstand such enormous pressure for lap after lap from a faster car was a drive absolutely worthy of the great champions."
Hamilton, who remains fifth in the championship, was passed by Red Bull`s race winner after three corners and the 24-year-old German, Formula One`s youngest ever double champion, did not look back.
Whitmarsh revealed afterwards however that Hamilton had been seriously handicapped by his car.
"His finishing position may only go down in the history books as another second place but, make no mistake, this was a fantastic drive -- beautifully assured and perfectly judged," he said.
"The data showed that he was losing a significant amount of downforce from his front wing. After the race we inspected (it) and discovered that the left-hand slot-gap had become filled with congealed tyre rubber.
"As a result he was suffering from masses of understeer, which further hurts the tyres," said Whitmarsh.
The second place was Hamilton`s first appearance on the podium in six races, while team mate Jenson Button`s run of five top-three places in a row came to an end on Sunday.
Hamilton has had a miserable season, one he has called his worst ever despite winning two races, because of regular controversies caused by his aggressive approach.
He has made regular trips to the stewards while the media have pored and puzzled over his mental state, questioning his attitude and management choices.
The 26-year-old looked happier on Sunday but he still played down his afternoon.
"I think I came here in a decent mood, a good weekend, but I didn`t win," he told reporters.
"I went backwards so I wouldn`t say that I`m happy about that. But nonetheless I was able to keep the car on the track and not get into trouble. I didn`t have any penalties, so that`s a positive.
"I`m not ecstatic, I didn`t win but I finished second and that`s a strong finish, compared to where I finished in the last five or six races," added Hamilton. "But there`s no need to celebrate, there`s nothing to celebrate."