Lewis Hamilton is predicting that his championship battle with Sebastian Vettel will go down to the final race of the season – but has warned that his rival may prove difficult to beat.
Hamilton, 32, halved Vettel’s lead at the summit of the title race after he took the chequered flag in Belgium on Sunday to move to within seven points of the Ferrari driver.
The high-speed nature of the Spa-Francorchamps track had been expected to play to Mercedes’ strengths, but Hamilton was required to be at his very best to stave off the threat from Vettel and his resurgent Ferrari team.
Indeed Hamilton subsequently claimed that Vettel was faster than his Mercedes in race trim.
Hamilton will head to Ferrari’s home track in Monza – the first of three back-to-back instalments in the concluding half of the season – for Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix well aware that is a circuit which again should favour his Mercedes package.
But the ensuing race in Singapore – a high-downforce track where Hamilton has struggled in recent seasons – could again prove his Achilles heel.
“I am cautious knowing that we may not be the quickest everywhere ahead, and I am trying to figure out in my mind how I can apply positive energy to my guys to encourage them to bring some more magic to the next eight races,” Hamilton said.
“I hope we have more to come and we need more to come in order to win this thing. It’s going to take everything from every single one of us to finish these next eight races and come out on top. That’s how a championship should be so I’m really looking forward to that challenge.
” Ferrari have had the most consistent season and while we’ve had a solid and well put together weekend here, it was only just enough to stay ahead.
“It is going to go right down to the wire. It will come down to reliability. It will come down to a shift in pendulum on performance, and it will come down to us with our consistency.”
Hamilton, who this season is bidding to become the first British driver to win four championships, looks set to stay at Mercedes after rival Vettel committed his future to Ferrari with a new three-year deal.
Hamilton’s current contract expires at the end of 2018, but his Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says talks over a new deal will not take place until the conclusion of the current campaign.
“Our relationship is very good and each of us appreciates what we have in the other one,” Wolff said. “But this is not a topic we want to tackle now, or over the remaining races of the season. It is an intense part of the year. We will get that over the line and then we will pick up the discussions.”
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Lewis Hamilton has etched his name into Formula One folklore after equalling Michael Schumacher’s all-time record by securing pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix.
The triple world champion, competing here in his 200th race, delivered a dominant performance to soar to the top of the order at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit and claim the 68th pole of his glittering career.
Championship leader Sebastian Vettel, who earlier on Saturday committed his long-term future to Ferrari, will join his rival Hamilton on the front row, with the pole-sitter’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in third.
Hamilton has been in a buoyant mood on the sport’s return to action following its summer hiatus, and the 32-year-old Englishman, as he has so often done during his decade-long career, provided the goods when it mattered the most with a record-breaking lap.Hamilton’s best time of one minute and 42.553 seconds enabled him to finish one quarter of a second clear of Vettel, who pipped Bottas in the closing moments of the session.
F1 director Ross Brawn, the English mastermind behind Schumacher’s seven championship triumphs at Benetton and then Ferrari, delivered a congratulatory message on behalf of the German’s family.
Little is known of Schumacher’s condition after he suffered severe head injuries following a skiing accident more than three years ago.
“They want to congratulate you on equalling Michael’s record, and as Michael always said, records are there to be beaten,” Brawn said.
Hamilton, who trails Vettel by 14 points in the championship, replied: “It is special. To hear the message that Ross just gave I have to say a big thank you.
“I think and pray for Michael all the time. I’ve had the privilege of racing with him and always admired him and still do.
“I’m just honoured to be up there with him now in the poles, but he will still be one of the greatest of all time.”
Lewis Hamilton stormed to a fifth pole position for the British Grand Prix with a devastating lap in a tense and rain-affected qualifying session on Saturday.
The three-time world champion thrilled the home fans with a stunning lap of 1min 26.600sec in the closing stages to outstrip his rivals by more than half a second with Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari taking second.
“You always try to save the best till last,” said Hamilton, who faced a stewards’ inquiry for allegedly blocking Romain Grosjean, but was cleared of any wrongdoing.
“I felt very comfortable in these conditions – they are the conditions we grew up racing in here in England.”
Grosjean of Haas had claimed he was blocked and had lost three-tenths of a second, adding that Hamilton had made no effort to move aside.
Hamilton told reporters: “I was coming around to start my lap, Valtteri [Bottas] was up ahead, so I was, as we all do, trying to get the space.
“Behind me was one of the Force Indias, who then came in, so there was no-one behind me, but literally as I was about to get on the gas I looked in the mirror and saw there was a car coming.
“I don’t know if I got in the way, and if I did I apologise… I had no indication from the team that there was anyone coming and I think I just got away without blocking him.”
Hamilton drew level with Jim Clark’s 50-year-old record of five British poles and registered the 67th of his career, one shy of the outright record held by Michael Schumacher.
He will be seeking his fourth successive victory at Silverstone and record-equalling fifth overall in Sunday’s race.
He also became the first man to reel off three successive poles at the British race since 1996 world champion Damon Hill.
“This is definitely the best position to start from,” said Hamilton. “But I need to do it tomorrow for these fans here. They are amazing.”
Championship leader Sebastian Vettel was left frustrated in third in the second Ferrari ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes, although the Finn faces a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change.
“It felt ok, but the conditions were not easy, changing a lot,” said Raikkonen. “The car felt the best it had this weekend, but not quite fast enough for first place.”
Vettel said: “The car came alive this morning and that was really good. It’s a shame there that in the last run in Q3 there was not more time!”
RICCIARDO DRAWS RED FLAG
Max Verstappen was fifth for Red Bull ahead of Nico Hulkenberg of Renault, Sergio Perez and his Force India team-mate Esteban Ocon.
Stoffel Vandoorne took an encouraging ninth for McLaren ahead of Grosjean. The session began in cool conditions with rain intensifying.
Daniel Ricciardo clocked an early lap in 1:42.966 to set the pace, but his luck soon ran out when he suffered a turbo failure and parked on the Luffield exit road.
This prompted a red flag for a five-minute delay to remove his vehicle before the action resumed, this setback leaving him 20th and last before a five-place penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change is applied.
As the circuit dried, the times tumbled with wild movements of positions.
Hamilton, Vettel and then Verstappen topped the lists before Alonso, after a late switch to slicks, clocked the best time for McLaren.
It was thrilling for the crowd, and appreciated, but after his penalties he will start from the back of the grid.
Out with Ricciardo went rookie Lance Stroll, 16th for Williams, Kevin Magnussen of Haas, Pascal Wehrlein and his Sauber team-mate Marcus Ericsson.
Once again, Vettel found reason to grumble on his team radio when he claimed he was blocked by Perez. A gesticulation and a message aimed at the stewards followed. “What is Perez doing?” he said. “That’s the second time – in Austria it was the same thing.”
But stewards promptly decided no investigation was warranted and Vettel went fastest before Hamilton and Bottas regained the top places ahead of the final drama.
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