Lewis Hamilton has warned Sebastian Vettel that there is more in his locker as the title rivals prepare for the second chapter in their battle for this year’s Formula 1 crown.
As the sport roars back into life against the backdrop of the Ardennes mountains in Belgium, it is Hamilton who holds the championship aces.
The Mercedes driver has already established a 24-point lead over Vettel, and is traditionally at his all-conquering best in the concluding half of the campaign.
On the evidence of practice at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit yesterday, Ferrari appear to boast a slight advantage over Mercedes with Vettel topping the order in the opening running. His team-mate Kimi Raikkonen then edged out Hamilton by 0.168 seconds in the ensuing session.
But the 33-year-old Englishman is ready to turn up the heat with just nine races in 14 weeks set to determine the title outcome.
“We have had so many ups and downs over the first half of the season,” said Hamilton.
“But what normally happens is you go from strength to strength through the year, and through the good and the bad.
“There are lots of positives to take into the second half of the year and there is more juice to come.
“When you do have a little bit of a points buffer, subconsciously there is a positive effect, but my approach is the same. I don’t want to lose the points that I have.
“We have had times this year where it has gone back and forth, but I don’t want the pendulum to go back the other way again.”
On points, Hamilton has the equivalent of a victory in his pocket.
Indeed, Vettel can ill-afford to make any mistakes should he wish to upset the odds and deliver Ferrari’s first championship in more than a decade.
The German led Hamilton by 14 points at this stage last season before Ferrari’s second-half implosion – coupled with Hamilton’s brilliance as he won five out of the six races following the summer break – enabled him to wrap up the championship in Mexico with two rounds to spare.
“Only Sebastian can tell you if he is feeling the pressure,” added Hamilton. “I can tell you if the pressure is on me, and the pressure is as great as it can be, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. As humans that pressure moves us to try and do extraordinary things, to evolve, push the envelope, and be better in all areas.
“That is the excitement of this battle. We are battling against Ferrari, a historic team which haven’t won a championship in a while, and although we have, we want to win, as much, if not more than them.”
The unpredictable weather threatens to play its part in Belgium as it does so often here, and as it did so memorably 20 years ago.
A spin by David Coulthard led to one of the most dramatic opening-lap pile-ups ever witnessed in the sport before Michael Schumacher then crashed out from the lead after he rammed into the back of Coulthard’s McLaren.
Dark skies accompanied practice yesterday but the rain held off as British teenager Lando Norris made his grand prix weekend debut by deputising for Fernando Alonso in opening practice.
The 18-year-old Englishman, who is in the frame for a full-time drive at the under-performing McLaren team next year, finished 18th of the 20 runners, three seconds off the pace.
Red Bull, meanwhile, have rubbished Fernando Alonso’s claim that they offered him a drive for next season.
Double world champion Alonso, 37, will bring the curtain down on his career at the end of the year after failing to land a move away from the beleaguered McLaren team. But ahead of this week’s Belgian Grand Prix, the Spaniard suggested he was given the option to replace Renault-bound Daniel Ricciardo for 2019.
“To be totally clear there was no offer to Fernando Alonso for next year,” said Christian Horner. “We offered Fernando a contract – but that was back in 2007.”