BUDAPEST, Hungary, Jul 30 – Championship leader Lewis Hamilton has no intention of lazing on a beach as Formula One takes its annual European summer break following his resounding triumph in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
Instead, he plans to fine-tune his physical and mental fitness in readiness to turn up the heat in his closely-fought title duel with Sebastian Vettel next month.
The defending champion, who opened up a 24-point lead over his fellow four-time title-holder by winning Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix for a record sixth time, said he wants to come back stronger and ready to apply more pressure.
“The second half of the season is always intense, but it is usually when it gets a bit better on our side,” he said, referring to his Mercedes team, in the aftermath of their polished triumph at the Hungaroring.
“So we will go away and prepare and make sure we come back stronger.”
Hamilton’s victory was a near-perfect send-off for him and Mercedes as the F1 circus set off for a four-week closedown that will end when the teams return to action in Belgium at the end of August.
After his epic success in the rain in Germany, where he won from 14th on the grid, his Hungarian victory was another blow to Vettel, and Ferrari, after two race weekends they may prefer to forget.
Despite superior speed in practice, in dry conditions, they were unable to claim the result they craved in a dark week that followed the death of the team’s former chairman Sergio Marchionne.
But Hamilton refused to be drawn into title talk and warned that, with nine races remaining, more epic contests lay ahead.
“Absolutely not,” he said, dismissing the idea that he was closing in on a fifth title.
“It is far too early. You have seen the ups and downs we have had – we’ve been ahead, then behind, then ahead. I don’t believe there is ever a moment you have got your hands on the trophy…”
Hamilton was also full of praise for Mercedes’ teamwork on and off the circuit.
“You see the teamwork me and Valtteri had, it worked pretty well,” he said, pointing to the start and opening lap when they fended off a concerted Ferrari attack.
– Selfless Bottas –
“Valtteri and I started first and second, so we talked before the race,” he explained.
“Naturally, both of us want to get into the lead. So we get a good start, but it’s also really important that we try to maintain position.
“For instance, if I block him or corner him in, it gives the opportunity to the guys behind to pass him, so I tried not to make it too difficult for him in that respect.”
Hamilton also praised Bottas for his selfless driving during the race, when he had to cover the threat of Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari, whose early pit-stop, forced Mercedes to follow suit.
“He had to cover Kimi and that was unfortunate because that’s a long, long way to go on the soft tyres…”
For the luckless Bottas, it meant his final laps were reduced to a slithering defence of his position, two collisions, a late pit-stop and fifth place after which he not only received a 10-seconds penalty, for colliding with Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, but was piqued by Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff praising his work as a “wingman”.
Wolff later explained that his comments had been misconstrued.
One of Bottas’s collisions was with Vettel, who after crashing out of the lead in Germany, finished second in a damage-limitation drive.
Like Hamilton, he maintained the title race is still wide open.
“We know that consistency is the key, scoring points, and I did myself no favours last week,” said Vettel. “But that is part of racing. Stuff happens.”
“Last year, we lost the championship because our car was not quick enough in the final part of the season, but this year it is more efficient and it is stronger and still has a lot of potential.
“So, I am confident that we can improve and it should be a very exciting second half to the season.”