Lewis Hamilton let his heart rule his head in a remarkable moment of sportsmanship at the Hungarian Grand Prix which could ultimately cost him the championship.
As Sebastian Vettel took the chequered flag at the Hungaroring to claim his fourth victory of the season, his chief title rival was selflessly surrendering back the final spot on the podium to his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Bottas had earlier been ordered aside by Mercedes so Hamilton could take the challenge to the Ferrari duo of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen at a track where overtaking is notoriously difficult.
But Hamilton, who said he would give the place back to team-mate Bottas should he fail in his pursuit of the Ferrari duo, remained true to his word, and pulled aside on the final corner of the final lap.
After moving seven seconds clear of Bottas, and with an eye on the championship, Hamilton might have been forgiven for holding position. But the 32-year-old, who was racing in front of his father Anthony for the first time in nearly four years, vowed to win this year’s championship the right way.
He would have been 11 points behind Vettel had he remained in third. His sporting gesture , means he will now head into the sport’s summer shutdown 14 points adrift of his rival.
“The mind is more cut-throat and every point counts, and it’s do-or-die,” Hamilton said. “The heart told me that the right thing to do was to let Valtteri past. 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. But I said at the beginning of the year I want to win it the right way, and I do think today was the right way to do things.
“It hopefully shows that I am a man of my word, and also that I am a team player.”
Of that there can be no denying. Ferrari, as they historically do, have thrown their complete backing behind one driver. Vettel is their main man, but Mercedes, much like their lead driver, oppose such preferential treatment.
It is a tactic which they admit could thwart Hamilton in his quest to become the first British driver to win four titles.
“It cost us three points and it could cost us the championship and we are perfectly conscious of that,” Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff added. “Saying I wouldn’t regret the decision would be very naive. But standing by your values is what is going to make us win more championships. We don’t drive in circles because we enjoy it so much. We drive in circles because we hope that it promotes our brand and makes us sell cars.
“The purpose of us being here is doing the right things and winning in the right way.”