First in standings, but second in speed and McLaren look to close the gap on rivals Red Bull.
Out in front but Hamilton feels off the pace
Lewis Hamilton claims his belief that he will be world champion for a second time in 2010 has not wavered despite his McLaren-Mercedes car being out-paced in the last three races. The Briton, who leads the world championship by 14 points from Jenson Button, his teammate, was beaten by Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, the Red Bull-Renault drivers, at Valencia and Silverstone as he had to settle for second in both, before last weekend in Germany when he could only finish fourth as the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa dominated.
But despite the tight nature of the points standings, with 34 points covering Hamilton and fifth-placed Alonso, the 25-year-old said he is not concerned about his championship credentials ahead of this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest. "We're not at the point at the moment where we're worried about people catching us up or anything like that," the 2008 world champion said yesterday. "We're fighting for a championship, so inevitably other drivers are going to be hunting us down.
"It's easier to hunt people who are ahead of you than to defend, but we're not defending, we're hunting for that championship ourselves. "The only concern for myself, Jenson and the team is our pace because we feel we should be quicker and we need to figure out where we are losing the time." McLaren have rarely been the quickest car at a track, with their only pole position of the season coming in Canada.
They have won four times in 2010, two apiece for Hamilton and Button, but they have been helped by mixed weather conditions and mistakes from their rivals along the way despite being the car usually being more competitive in race conditions then over one lap in qualifying. Meanwhile, Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, said that his drivers would continue to be allowed to race each other freely for race victories.
Ferrari caused controversy in Germany when Massa moved aside for Alonso during the race to allow the Spaniard to win and improve his championship challenge. The Italian team have since been fined US$100,000 (Dh367,000) by the race stewards and had the case referred to the World Motorsport Council due to team orders being banned in the sport, and the change of lead being seen as transgressing that law despite Ferrari denying it.
But Whitmarsh said there was no danger of either of his drivers being asked to play second fiddle to the other one, despite the tight nature of the top half of the championship. "We decide to race with our drivers racing," Whitmarsh said. "In the longer term it is the healthy thing to do for this team. It is my decision and what we want to do, whereas others do what they want to do. That is up to them. Our modus operandi is simply to make our car as quick as we can, concentrate on that.
"We've also good harmony in our team, possibly better harmony now than our neighbours. "We're leading the championship, but we have to accelerate the process of developing the car, I think we can do that. I think we've some good development momentum. "Obviously I want to win this year's world championship, and the right thing to do is to concentrate on what we do, how we do it. "We're going what we think is the right way to try and win it.
"We can look silly and maybe there will be occasions where we lose a championship, or we lose a race because we're pushing and racing, but at the moment that is the right thing to do." McLaren may not have been on form in recent races, but they will be confident of a good showing in Hungary at a track that they have shone at in recent years. Hamilton won at the Hungaroring last year and also in 2007, while Heikki Kovalainen and Kimi Raikkonen both stood on the top step of the podium in McLaren colours in 2008 and 2005 respectively.
A McLaren has also started from pole position in Budapest for four of the past five years. * PA