VALENCIA, Spain – Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton will be hoping to pick-up this weekend on the streets of Valencia where he left off in Budapest last month when he takes part in the European Grand Prix.The 24-year-old Englishman claimed his first win of the season last time out in Hungary for McLaren Mercedes and with a package of improvements on his car believes he can challenge for another win after Formula One’s month-long summer break.
Hamilton said: "It’s great to be getting back to business after the break and I’m still buzzing from the win in Hungary.
"I’m hopeful of being able to carry that pace into the Valencia weekend – particularly with our new upgrades to the car."
His team boss Martin Whitmarsh is also optimistic that after a desultory start to the year, McLaren will be back with plenty to prove in the second half of the season.
He said he believed the latest upgrades for the MP4-24 car will give Hamilton a great chance to win again on the Mediterranean street circuit laid out around the harbour of the Spanish city.
Whitmarsh said: "It’s very important that we are able to maintain the winning momentum into this weekend’s race. Fortunately, we have made a structured effort to bring further improvements to the car in Spain.
"The whole team has been buoyed by that win and is really looking forward to another strong set of results this weekend."
Hamilton’s improvement and optimism is bad news for championship-leading fellow-Briton Jenson Button of Brawn GP and his Red Bull rivals as they see the title race thrown wide open.
Spaniard Fernando Alonso is another challenger who could upset all the easy predictions of a Button v Sebastian Vettel duel for the crown as the Renault driver bids to give his home fans plenty to cheer in Sunday’s race.
He secured his first pole position of the season in Hungary and believes he can fight for a podium this weekend.
"Our performance in Hungary was encouraging as the car was quick and we managed to get pole, which was actually a bit of a surprise," he said.
"To retire from the race was disappointing, but I’m looking on the bright side because I think that the car can be just as competitive in Valencia.
"Last year my race there was very short – less than a lap – so I’m really determined to make up for that this weekend and hopefully we can fight for the podium."
A strong showing by Alonso may also go some way to quell the disappointment of those who bought tickets in anticipation of seeing seven times champion Michael Schumacher make a dramatic comeback for Ferrari as replacement for injured Brazilian Felipe Massa.
Massa crashed in Hungary and suffered head and eye injuries after debris from compatriot Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn car flew up and hit him.
But after injuring his neck in a motorbike accident in February Schumacher has failed in his fitness fight to make a return and instead Ferrari will run veteran Italian Luca Badoer, a test driver, in the car.
Badoer said: "I have to say, my first thoughts when I take to the track will be for Felipe, because I got a real fright when I saw his accident.
"I have to add that I am also thinking of Michael, because having trained with him over the last few weeks, I know how much he wanted to make this comeback and how much effort he was putting into his preparation."
Massa has made good progress and is targeting a comeback in the season’s penultimate race his home Brazilian Grand Prix at Sao Paulo.
Button, desperate to recover his form after three races without a win that have seen his lead trimmed heavily, said: "I’ve kept pretty busy over the past few weeks with the London Triathlon at the start of the month and then some time to relax with my family and friends, but it’s seemed like a long time without a race!
"Valencia is a beautiful city and the track is quite fun when it goes round the edge of the marina and over the bridge. It’s quite challenging for the drivers with so many turns and the added factor of being surrounded by barriers.So, it will be an interesting weekend."