The sense of satisfaction oozed out of Lewis Hamilton after the Spanish Grand Prix, in which he took a thrilling victory in the best race of a season that is already heading towards becoming a classic.
The Mercedes driver’s 55th career win meant he matched title rival Sebastian Vettel on two wins each in the five races so far this season and closed the points gap at the top of the championship to just six heading into the next race in Monaco on 28 May.
Just as importantly, it was a victory to boost the confidence of both Hamilton and his team. They did it the hard way after losing the lead to Vettel on the first lap, and it required both brilliant driving and inspirational strategic thinking to get back past the Ferrari.
The effort it took from Hamilton was apparent by the unusual breathlessness of many of his radio messages as he and his Mercedes engineers worked to turn the race back around in their favour against the odds.
And in doing so they answered many of the questions that have arisen over them in the course of a first quarter of the season in which Ferrari have pushed them right to the limit.
Those panting radio calls from Hamilton – some of them betraying so much effort that he was unable to even finish the sentence he was trying to construct – were caused, he said afterwards, by the sheer physical and mental effort he was having to put into the race.
“The intensity of the fight, how much I was on the edge,” Hamilton said. “I was very much on the edge. It is hard to really explain it. I was pushing. I couldn’t push any more. And that was every lap for 66 laps, well, 63.”
This could not have happened last year, or indeed any of the years from 2011-16, when the Pirelli tyres would not have sustained such demands. But the harder compound introduced for this season has allowed drivers to push much closer to the limit for much longer and the result has been a series of terrific races that are really testing the drivers.
Hamilton and Vettel career comparison
Later in the race, Hamilton found himself behind Vettel but on a faster tyre. Overtaking is notoriously difficult on this track.
After being barged off the track as they disputed the lead when Vettel returned to the track from his final pit stop, Hamilton spent six laps tracking Vettel closely while they negotiated traffic, before using the extra grip of his tyres to get him close enough to use the DRS overtaking aid – now Vettel did not also have it – to blast past on the straight.