It would have felt almost like a victory to him at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Esteban Ocon won it brilliantly. He was the world champion at his very best. He was relentless and refused to give up in a fight that left his heart broken.
This result, which was a complete reversal in fortunes on track, managed it almost seemed almost by will, has secured a similar volte-face in the championship fight. After Sebastian Vettel's car failed to provide the required fuel sample, Hamilton was promoted to second position five hours later. The appeal was denied and Verstappen was removed from second place. With Red Bull's Max Verstappen taking damage after being hit by Hamilton's Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton's title rival could manage only tenth, promoted to ninth.
Hamilton was 33 points ahead of Verstappen before the Silverstone round. F1 now holds a eight-point lead as it heads into the summer break. Each one was earned by a long, torturous pass through the Hungaroring's twisting corners.
This was a similarly impressive performance for Ocon. Vettel was a formidable challenge for the Frenchman. The 24-year-old Frenchman won his first career race win. Vettel was just a second behind him throughout the race. It was an impressive display of control under pressure and it was a great achievement. As the German forced him to the flag, he was calm and composed.
It was an unlikely win but one he will treasure while Hamilton and his team demonstrated a resilience that gave notice that, if the title is to be wrested from them by Red Bull, it will be only after a titanic struggle.
The race that turned into an exciting and gripping race was a chaotic one. Hamilton said it all, but Hamilton must have thought it was a farce. The race was opened on intermediate wet tires, as rain had already started to fall twenty minutes prior to the start. Hamilton won the standing start and was clear in front, but Bottas fell from second to fifth. The Finn became too hot going through turn 1. He slid into Lando Norris' McLaren, taking Verstappen with him. Verstappen continued racing but suffered severe injuries that severely hampered his speed.
The race was stopped. On the formation lap for the restart, the track was drying. As the safety car led cars back to the start, the entire grid dived into pits to get slick tires. Hamilton didn't do so and he took the standing starting. He was forced to pit at the finish of the lap, with the rest of his field having an automatic stop. He finished in last place.
Mercedes had made the wrong decision and Ocon took the lead from Vettel, while Hamilton was last.
Hamilton's initial reaction was one of urgency as he accepted his situation, but Hamilton also displayed a frightening stoicism as the process of reversing the trend. Peter Bonnington, Hamilton's race engineer, told him that "we can still win this". However, Hamilton later admitted that he needed "some of the stuff they had been smoking", because the task was so difficult.
Although the Mercedes was the fastest of the field, passing is crucial at the Hungaroring. They were forced to be aggressive and pitted Hamilton on lap 20 to get the hard rubber. This allowed them to overtake the rest of the field. Red Bull placed Verstappen in the ninth position to cover Hamilton, but Verstappen had already done an incredible out-lap and was now in the ninth spot. His lap was two seconds quicker than the leaders.
He took advantage of the pace. He was fifth on lap 32, with 36 seconds remaining. However, passing became more difficult as his rubber began to wear, and Mercedes decided to roll the dice again. On lap 47, they pitted him again to get fresh tyres in an attempt to gain grip with 23 laps remaining. He finished fifth behind Fernando Alonso, 25 seconds behind Ocon, but was instantly four seconds faster than his rivals.
Mercedes had the right decision on both of his stops, and Hamilton caught Alonso on lap 54. Budapest was then treated to the fight F1 has long wanted to see. Two of the most talented drivers their generation were going wheel-to-wheel. It was amazing as Hamilton dived and ducked through turns 2 to 4, while Alonso held firm. Hamilton, however, would not give up until he reached turn 1. Hamilton took it to the limit on lap 65. Alonso finished fourth.
Carlos Sainz was fourth, and was promoted to third. Ocon and Vettel were also out of touch, but Hamilton was within two seconds.
He was exhausted from all the effort and was eventually taken to the team doctor for fatigue. This was a challenging day in a season likely to be demanding. Hamilton's moments are what will make the difference.