Lewis Hamilton expects the challenge from his world championship rival Max Verstappen and Red Bull only to be stronger as Formula One enters the second half of the season. Before Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, Hamilton conceded that the most tightly contested campaign since 2016 has been one of his toughest fights in F1.
Hamilton returns to racing after F1’s summer break after pullling off ain Hungary. After dropping to last place when Mercedes miscalled a restart he recovered to take third place, and was promoted to second when Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin was later disqualified for failing to supply a fuel sample.
Verstappen suffered damage to his car after being hit by Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, on the opening lap and finished 10th, although he was later promoted to ninth. At the previous round, Hamilton clipped Verstappen causing him to crash out and score no points. Before the British GP, Hamilton trailed Verstappen by 33 points but goes into this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps with an eight-point lead.
It was a reversal against the head, however, with Verstappen winning four of the five races before the British GP. Hamilton was convinced he andwould come back strongly.
“It’s going to be close, it’s going to be tough this second half of the season,” he said. “The first half was one of the toughest. I expect it’s going to be pretty much the same in the second half, if not more difficult.
“We have seen the speed and competitiveness of them in the past. Of course as we have gone through the season they have got stronger and stronger. It’s been harder for us as we have gone on, we had a difficult patch but we have got back in terms of operating how we have in the past to a good place.”
Verstappen was eager to dismiss the poor fortune of the previous two rounds. “We are very positive,” he said. “We had a lot of good races, just the last two didn’t go our way, out of our control. The team is looking forward to getting started again.”
After the Hungarian GP Hamilton was fatigued and dizzy, andhe might be suffering from long Covid. He contracted the virus in December last year and missed the Sakhir GP. He recovered but revealed in Budapest he had been struggling to return to full fitness all season. “I have been fighting all year with my health after what happened at the end of last year and it is still a battle,” he said.
The 36-year-old declined to reveal whether he had long Covid but was confident in his health after the summer break. “It’s quite personal information, of course,” he said. “I have spent time over this period to try and make sure I am in the best shape and do feel like I am moving into the second half of the season and it’s not a concern for me.”
Who will drive alongside Hamilton next season at Mercedes remains to be revealed with both candidates, Bottas and Williams’s George Russell, stating they had no news to share on the team’s decision as yet and would be unlikely to do so until Monza at the earliest.
Fernando Alonso confirmed in Spa he will race on in F1 for another season with his Alpine team. The double world champion returned to the sport this year after a two-year absence and has extended his contract for a further season in 2022. Alonso turned 40 last month and is 11th in the championship.
Alpine scored their first win at the last round in Hungary with Esteban Ocon taking the flag and are hopeful that they will be able to challenge under the new regulations next season. “I have been a big supporter of the need for a level playing field and change in the sport and the 2022 season will be a great opportunity for that,” said Alonso. “I am looking forward to the rest of this year and racing alongside Esteban in 2022 for Alpine.”