By Alan Baldwin
BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton said it would take a miracle for him to win Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix but in the end it looked like more a case of alchemy.
The tires that had tormented him took him to triumph instead.
"I came here saying and praying that when we put on these tires that they would come towards us more than away from us and it seems like they've done that," he told reporters after his first win for Mercedes.
"For a team that really struggles with tire degradation today was a walk in the park. I'm really baffled," added the 2008 Formula One world champion.
A sweltering sprint might have been a more accurate description, with track temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius and air temperatures hovering around 35, but Hamilton was as cool as anyone out there.
Over the last 20 laps, he said, he was drinking a lot of water and able "to really chill".
"We came here with upgrades and constantly doing work to try and understand these tires. I think today we bolted them on and they just worked for us. I really was not expecting it," said the Briton.
He described winning for Mercedes, after 21 wins for McLaren, as "a really calming, relaxing feeling".
"The experiences I had at McLaren were some of my greatest but I think this is one of the highlights of my career up to now," he added. "Moving to a new team and a team that was struggling massively last year and to finally get a win with them after the first nine or 10 races is a great feeling."
Hungary was the first time Pirelli's new tires had been raced after the Italian company made changes following a spate of blowouts that caused havoc at last month's British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Hamilton had started that race on pole position, just as he did in Hungary, but his hopes of a home win evaporated in an explosion of flailing rubber.
Sunday may not have made up for that disappointment but the victory, at a circuit where he has now won four times in the last seven years, made up for some of the pain.
It also compensated for Mercedes being barred from a test at Silverstone last week, which all the other teams attended, as punishment for taking part in a 'secret' session with Pirelli in Spain in May.
"I think this is probably one of the most important grand prix wins of my career," said Hamilton, addressing the cheering crowd from the podium, after a race that left him fourth in the championship and 48 points behind Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel.
"When you have a win like this, you get excited and you think anything is possible and obviously today shows that anything is possible but I think it's still too early for us to say whether or not we can challenge these guys," he said.
"I hope today is the first step in doing so but we've got a lot of tough races coming up. I just hope that that's not the last time my tires work for me."
Hamilton had been on pole for the last three races but on Saturday he played down any expectations of a win that some had ruled out entirely when he moved from McLaren to Mercedes at the end of last season.
"We've got a steep hill to climb with these tires and if we did win it would be a miracle. I still feel the win is a while off," he had told reporters, describing his pole lap as nothing special and predicting a tough day ahead.
The 'miracle' duly happened but Hamilton was also as determined as he has ever been to secure his first win for a team other than McLaren, his team since boyhood.
"I think you could tell I was hungry for it today. I was just going all-out. I needed to get past those people and usually I get stuck in traffic, generally in my races, and today I wasn't having it. I was going for every move I had," he said.
Mercedes have now won three of the 10 races so far this season and are still very much in the championship challenge.
"If we can be quick here in a race with these track temperatures then I'm very hopeful that we can be competitive everywhere else, so this could be a really good...could be a good turning point for us," said Hamilton.
(Editing by John Mehaffey)