Lewis Hamilton’s heart spoke louder than his mind during the closing stages of a tense Hungarian Grand Prix, and at the end of the day sportsmanship was the winner.
By handing back third place to Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas on the final lap, the Formula 1 title contender made a gesture that cost him a podium and precious points but won him plaudits.
“I want to win the championship the right way and I don’t know whether that will come back to bite me on the backside or not,” he said. “I do think today was the right way to do things.”
Going into the race one point behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton saw the gap at the top stretch to 14 points after the German chalked up his fourth victory of the season.
It would have been an 11-point difference had Hamilton, a triple world champion and the second most successful Formula One driver of all time after Michael Schumacher in terms of race wins, shown a more selfish streak.
Bottas had let his faster team mate through with 25 laps remaining, on the understanding that the positions would be reversed if the British driver failed to pass the Ferraris ahead on a track where overtaking is famously difficult.
Hamilton had plenty of excuses to press on to the chequered flag as Bottas fell more than seven seconds behind, chased closely by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen with the risk of the Dutchman passing both if the Briton slowed too much.
The team-to-car radio had also been faulty, making communication difficult throughout the race. Hamilton, though, said he knew what he had to do, and did it.
Asked afterwards whether he had listened to his head or his heart, he pointed to the latter, “I think more from the heart, probably. The mind is more cut-throat and every point counts and this is do-or-die. My heart tells me the right thing to do was to let Valtteri past.
“I think today really shows, hopefully, that I am a man of my word, and also that I am a team player. I am just as much a part of this team as anyone and I think we’re working together better than we ever had, so I think today shows unity. I think, in life, you do good things and good things do come round back to you.”
For the last three seasons the title battle has been an internal one, with Hamilton fighting his now-retired team mate and 2016 champion Nico Rosberg, but this year has brought a new outside challenge in Vettel.
While Ferrari have made little secret that the four-times champion is their main man, with Kimi Raikkonen chafing behind him in second place on Sunday, Mercedes have been firm about equal opportunities.
“Me and Valtteri have a great amount of respect for each other,” said Hamilton. “Just as the team asked him to do a job and he did it, the same rules apply to me.”