Lewis Hamilton says European GP is not a must-win

By Sarah Holt in Valencia and Lawrence BarrettoBBC Sport

McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton has rejected suggestions that he must win Sunday's European Grand Prix to get his world title campaign back on track.

Hamilton has slipped to fourth overall, three wins behind championship leader Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull.

Hamilton said: "If it's another bad one, it's another bad one, and there's nothing you can do about it.

"People can have bad weekends and you can bounce back. There is a long way to go. I'm not giving up any time soon."

Hamilton, 26, was involved in four separate incidents in the last two races in Monaco and Canada and picked up just eight points from events he had been hoping to win.

He is now 76 points behind Vettel, and although Hamilton admitted he was "still massively focused on the championship", he did admit: "It definitely feels like it could be the hardest championship between now and the end of the season."

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said his driver was determined to come back stronger in Valencia.

But Whitmarsh said: "Lewis can win this weekend and I'm sure that's what he's determined to do.

"The last two races haven't gone the way he or the team would have liked but I don't think he's lost any form."

The 2008 world champion collided with Ferrari's Felipe Massa in Monaco before clashing with Williams driver Pastor Maldonado on his way to sixth place.

Two weeks later in Canada, the McLaren driver tipped Red Bull's Mark Webber into a spin on the first lap and was then forced into retirement after colliding with team-mate Jenson Button on the start-finish straight.

"I think that Lewis has had a couple of tough races but that's what happens in motor racing," added Whitmarsh ahead of this weekend's race in Valencia.

"He doesn't like not winning so he didn't particularly enjoy the last two race weekends.

"Lewis is a passionate, aggressive driver who is one of the most exciting in the world to watch and I don't think he's going to change his approach.

"He's certainly fired up and he looked in great shape when I saw him two nights' ago. He's very enthusiastic to have a great result this weekend."

The team's future driver line-up has been the subject of speculation in recent weeks with Hamilton linked to a move to Red Bull, while BBC Sport understands that Button is poised to sign a new McLaren contract for next season.

But Hamilton played down prospects of a move from McLaren.

"I've not thought of myself in a Red Bull car or a Red Bull [driving] suit," he said.

"I've got a great car right now that is capable of winning. We're the only team apart from Red Bull who have won a race this year.

"I've got a fantastic team here. I've been with this team since I was 13 years old. Like I said before, as long as we remain competitive, there is no reason to go anywhere.

"My plan right now is to continue focusing on pushing these guys forward and trying to win more races.

"Me and Jenson [Button, his team-mate] want to have more one-twos, and the team does too. The team never gives up and that's what you want."

Button also played down reports surrounding his own future.

"The team have an option on me for next year," he added. "We haven't talked about it yet, but I'm sure we're going to have to talk about it soon."

Commenting on the speculation, Whitmarsh said: "We're very fortunate to have two different drivers. They're great in the team and great with one another.

"We'll talk about the future when the time comes. At the moment, we're not planning on having a different driver line up."

When pushed on Hamilton's link with Red Bull, Whitmarsh added: "Ultimately Lewis will decide where he's going, but I think he enjoys being in this team."

Hamilton denied that the media coverage devoted to his last two races was distracting.

"No, because I don't listen to it," he said. "I don't listen to the radio generally, I don't read the magazines. I just try to stay away from it, as I always have.

"Perhaps at the beginning of my career I was conscious of what people were saying, but it is what it is.

"People have opinions, you guys have jobs, so inevitably when things are good, good things will be said, when things are bad, bad things will be said.

"It doesn't really bother me. I've had great support from the people that I know who I know believe in me. There will be a better day and I'm sure there will be a better story."

Fresh from his victory in Canada a fortnight ago, where he passed Vettel for the lead on the final lap, Button stressed the need to maintain the pressure on Red Bull.

"They [Red Bull] had their issues in the pits in Monaco a couple of times, putting the wrong tyres on the car, and obviously Sebastian [Vettel] ran wide on the last lap of the race," he said. "If we put them under pressure, maybe they will make more mistakes.

"We've got to keep doing that because if we don't, they'll be invincible because they're so fast and Sebastian is doing such a good job.

Whitmarsh said he was hopeful McLaren can close the gap on Red Bull in qualifying after governing body the FIA announced new regulations which prevent teams from changing their engine maps between qualifying and the race.

While McLaren have been close to Red Bull in the race in terms of pace, the gap has been bigger in qualifying, resulting in the latter taking every single pole position this season.

"There are some changes this weekend in that the FIA will enforce a strict parc ferme regulation which will mean that the car which qualifies will be the car that races," he added. "Based on that we should be hopeful."