BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Lewis Hamilton admitted he's been below his usual standard for over a year, despite a fleeting feeling of returning to his best at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Hamilton beat Max Verstappen to a sensational pole position on Saturday but had dropped to fourth by the end of the opening lap, after being overtaken by Max Verstappen and the McLaren drivers in the first few corners.
It was Hamilton's first pole position since the 2021 Saubi Arabian Grand Prix, which was also his last race victory.
"I haven't been at my best for over a year," Hamilton admitted on Sunday evening. "Yesterday felt like it felt like it was me being back to my best."
Hamilton had known Verstappen would disappear into the distance at the start and the Dutchman ended up winning by 33 seconds, giving Red Bull a record 12th straight win.
Hamilton hoped instead for a fight with the McLarens but despite being able to catch Oscar Piastri for fourth in the closing stages, Lando Norris secured a comfortable second on the podium.
"It's obvious we're not the quickest, we don't have the quickest car," he said. "I'm really proud of myself and the job that we did yesterday to get pole position to out-perform the world champion and the other two cars that were quicker than us.
"Today is... just reality. The reality is we are not fast enough. They already told me in strategy this morning I would be at least five tenths slower than the Red Bull so the fight is not with Max. We were hoping we could fight the McLarens but the McLaren was too quick."
He added: "I think we may have been third with a better start, but fourth is OK."
Having passed Piastri, Hamilton finished the race chasing down Red Bull's Sergio Perez but he said the car came alive too late in the race for a podium.
"We were too slow in the first two stints. The balance was just not good, the car was just slow. The balance picked up a lot at the end and all of a sudden I was able to apply the pressure, but it was too late."