Hamilton relaxed ahead of Belgian GP

Mid-season break has given Mercedes driver a chance to refocus on catching three-time defending F1 champion Vettel.

    Hamilton relaxed ahead of Belgian GP
    Hamilton won the Hungarian GP in July from pole to clinch his first victory of a frustrating season [AFP]

    Lewis Hamilton has been training hard over Formula One's mid-season break to give himself the best possible chance of catching leader Sebastian Vettel with nine races left, starting at Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix.

    The Mercedes driver signalled his return to form with a win from the front at the Hungarian GP last month and will look to secure his fourth consecutive pole position in Spa. Hamilton is fourth overall and has 48 points to make up on Vettel, the three-time defending champion.

    Hamilton usually spends the midseason break relaxing but this time he chose to increase his training regime and has not given up hope of repeating his 2008 title.

    "To close that gap is a long way to go, (but) there's still a long way to go in the championship so nothing's impossible,'' Hamilton said.

    "I feel good in myself, coming here knowing I have a car I can fight with.

    "I've been training really hard over the break, which has been a lot different to the last six years,'' he added.

    "The last six years I've taken it as a real holiday. I just fancied doing something different. I just really kept myself busy. I wasn't on the beach chilling.''

    More settled

    At the same stage last season, the 28-year-old Hamilton was dealing with issues surrounding his future and tensions between him and Jenson Button escalated in tandem with the speculation.

    "Not knowing where I was planning to go was a constant drain, taking away energy,'' he said.

    It's just a great feeling coming here [Mercedes]. I'm settled in my new team, happy where I am now, looking forward to a successful three years with them

    Lewis Hamilton,

    "It's just a great feeling coming here. I'm settled in my new team, happy where I am now, looking forward to a successful three years with them.''

    Vettel was in a similar position to Hamilton last year, coming to Spa trailing Fernando Alonso by 42 points. He clawed those back and won the title at the last race.

    Vettel is 38 points ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and 39 ahead of Alonso. But Hamilton is expected by many to emerge as Vettel's direct challenger.

    "Mercedes has been very, very competitive, not just Lewis - also Nico (Rosberg), who won two races,'' Vettel said.

    "We know that they're very quick in qualifying. Hungary, in a way, for the first time they had the ability to show their speed in the race as well.''

    Hamilton's win in Budapest was indicative of a marked improvement in the car's consistency, because while Mercedes had the speed advantage over Red Bull it lacked durability for a whole race.

    "Surely the last couple of races they were most competitive,'' said the 26-year-old Vettel, who still considers Alonso and Raikkonen a threat.

    "Lotus have always been there scoring points with Kimi. Ferrari has a bit of a lull at the moment, still they've got good points,'' he said.

    "All of these teams and these drivers you have to keep them in mind. For us it's not that important to pick one particular driver.''

    Empty seat

    Vettel gets along well with Raikkonen and is somewhat disappointed that he will not get to drive alongside the Finn next season. The Red Bull seat is up for grabs since Mark Webber announced he will retire from F1 at the end of the campaign.

    "First of all, I didn't know how realistic it was or not. It looks like it's not the case,'' Vettel said.

    "Kimi would have been nice in many ways ... Who knows? He's young, I'm still young, a lot of things can still happen. But probably not for next year.''

    The 33-year-old Raikkonen's Lotus future remains unclear. He has been linked with a move to Red Bull and also to Ferrari but the Red Bull move appears over because Daniel Ricciardo is widely expected to step up from Toro Rosso and replace Webber.

    "Ideally you would like someone who is competitive, as competitive as you are, so that we're pushing each other. You don't have to be best friends with whoever is racing next to you,'' said Vettel, who has had several high-profile spats with Webber over the years.

    "You need to work for the team, I think that's one of the most important bits,'' Vettel added.

    "So that you work in the same direction and hopefully ensure that the car gets faster.''



    Survivor stories from Super Typhoon Haiyan

    Survivor stories from Super Typhoon Haiyan

    The Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm ever to make landfall. Five years on, we revisit this story.

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    We Are Still Here: A Story from Native Alaska

    We Are Still Here: A Story from Native Alaska

    From Qatar to Alaska, a personal journey exploring what it means to belong when your culture is endangered.