Formula 1: Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes will make step forward as season resumes

By Andrew BensonChief F1 writer
Lewis Hamilton
Radio and text coverage of the Belgian Grand Prix is live on the BBC Sport website

Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes will make "a step forward" in the second half of the Formula 1 season.

Hamilton leads Red Bull's Max Verstappen by eight points heading into this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix as F1 returns after a three-week break.

Hamilton said: "We have definitely upped our game. We have also, during the break, taken time to reflect.

"I have no doubts we will take another step forward in our processes and how we apply ourselves."

Hamilton was trailing Verstappen by 32 points two races ago but there has been a 40-point swing as a result of a difficult run for the Dutchman at the British and Hungarian races.

Verstappen crashed following a collision with Hamilton in a controversial incident on the first lap of the British Grand Prix, which the seven-time champion went on to win.

At the next race in Hungary, Verstappen's car was badly damaged in a first-lap pile-up triggered by Hamilton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas. Verstappen went on to finish ninth, with Hamilton second.

The two events ended a run of four wins in five races by Verstappen and also saw a step forward in performance from Mercedes, who introduced an upgrade to their car at Silverstone - the first for two months.

Hamilton qualified fastest at both events, ending a run of Red Bull being fastest over one lap in four of the previous five races.

The 36-year-old said he expected the battle to continue to be "close and tough" for the rest of the year.

"Through the season they have got stronger and stronger," Hamilton said. "It has been harder for us.

"We have had a bit of a difficult patch but we have got back - in terms of operating how we have in the past - to a good place.

"The first half was one of the toughest [I've experienced] and I expect it will be pretty much the same in the second half of the year, if not more difficult."

Hamilton had to see a doctor after the Hungarian race after experiencing dizziness on the podium and revealed that he believed he was suffering from long Covid, after contracting the disease last December.

He said: "I have spent time trying to make sure I am in the best shape and I do feel like I am in better shape moving into the second half of the season and it's no concern for me.

"We are still in this the pandemic and I still stress the importance of people staying safe.

"As you move around, you see people relaxing more and more but the virus is still around. We will continue to be in our bubble and I will continue to be focused on my health and making sure I continue to get stronger through the rest of the year."

Verstappen said: "The last two weekends for sure they were very quick. Hungary in general they were very strong. We have to see again here. They will be very quick here."

Hamilton is gunning for a record eighth title this season, while Verstappen is in his first championship campaign. But the Dutchman said he did not believe that Hamilton's experience would give the Briton an advantage over the climax to the season.

"The only advantage you can have is if you have a faster car," Verstappen said. "If you have seven titles or none, when you have spent a few years in F1 you know you have to finish every race and score the most available points every weekend.

"We all try to do our best and race in the best possible way. I don't really see the advantage there."

Russell or Bottas at Mercedes?

Bottas and George Russell, rivals for the second Mercedes seat alongside Hamilton in 2022, were coy when asked whether a decision had been made on their futures.

Some senior insiders believe that Mercedes have already decided to give the seat to Russell, who impressed on a one-off appearance for Mercedes in Bahrain last year when Hamilton contracted Covid-19.

Bottas said: "There is no news to share, yet. Who knows? Maybe I know something, maybe I don't."

Russell said: "There's nothing to announce one way or another this weekend, and probably not next weekend either.

"I think it's no problem. Everything is, you know, do things right rather than quickly."

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc said he believed Russell "deserved" to be promoted from the Williams team.

"It's great if George gets that seat because he deserves it," Leclerc said. "He is consistently there and showing good things and also in the past I have raced with him and I know how strong is George and it would be great to have such a talented driver in that seat."

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