SHANGHAI: Triple world champion Lewis Hamilton looked for positives at the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix yesterday after a five-place grid penalty wrecked his hopes of a third successive pole position this season.
The Briton, who has won at the Shanghai circuit for the past two years, collected the penalty after Mercedes decided to change his car’s gearbox ahead of Sunday’s third round of the season.
“For me a challenge is an opportunity to rise,” said Hamilton, who has the words ‘Still I rise’ emblazoned on his helmet and tattooed across his back.
“I love racing so I get to race this weekend rather than be at the front and have less of a race,” he told reporters.
Hamilton qualified on pole in Australia and Bahrain but suffered poor starts in both races, which were won by German team mate Nico Rosberg who now has a 17 point lead in the standings.
The reigning world champion has not won a race since he clinched his third title last October in Texas, with Rosberg now chasing his sixth successive victory, and had to fight back from seventh at the end of lap one to third in Bahrain.
Hamilton recognised it would be a tough weekend but said fighting through the field reminded him of his karting days, when others had better equipment and he had to make the difference.
“Actually, the last couple of races, being a little further back has been really exciting,” he added.
Mercedes have won 34 of the last 40 races and, with Hamilton starting no higher than sixth, Rosberg will be favourite to add to the tally and stretch his overall lead.
The German will needed no reminding of 2014, however, when he was 29 points clear of Hamilton at one stage but still lost out to his team mate in the end.
“It hasn’t really changed my approach at all,” Rosberg said of the Briton’s setback. “A Hamilton that starts sixth is still going to challenge for the win and we know that.”
Mercedes said Shanghai, a circuit where Hamilton has won four times and more times than any other driver, was the best place to take the penalty after the gearbox was damaged in Bahrain.
A driver must use a single gearbox for six consecutive events or take a mandatory penalty.
The Briton denied his Mercedes team-mate has struck a psychological blow by winning the first two races, insisting the early skirmishes count for little with 19 Grands Prix left in a championship with more rounds than ever.
“I couldn’t care less if he’s won the last five,” sniffed Hamilton, who was rammed by the Williams of Valtteri Bottas at the first corner before finishing third behind Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari in Bahrain two weeks ago, despite starting on pole for the second race in a row.
“Anything can happen.”
The 31-year-old knows, however, that failure to stop the rot in China could add weight to suggestions that he has lost a little of his edge since winning his third world title, a success he celebrated by partying long and hard.
Hamilton is still searching for the swashbuckling form that swept him to victory last year when he dominated in Shanghai, prompting a tantrum from Rosberg.
Worryingly also, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has warned that the clutch problems that have sabotaged Hamilton’s starts, setting him back in the first two races, might not be fixed in time for China.
However, he will be anxious to avoid the kind of controversy he courted in Shanghai last year when he sprayed champagne in the face of a Formula One hostess, triggering outrage on social media.