Hamilton: Title is not wrapped up yet

Lewis Hamilton insists he can still lose the World Championship despite taking an almost unassailable lead into the second half of the season.

As Formula One roars back into life here in Belgium following the sport’s summer shutdown, Hamilton is 62 points clear of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas with nine rounds remaining.

Hamilton headed on his break riding the wave of a fine performance in Hungary, passing Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the final laps to win for an eighth time from 12 starts this year.

The 34-year-old has never enjoyed a better start to a Formula One campaign – and usually saves his best drives for the business end of the year.

And with Verstappen – Hamilton’s closest non-Mercedes challenger 69 points behind – admitting his hopes of catching his rival are improbable, it is little wonder that the Briton is expected to gallop to his sixth championship with rounds to spare.

“I take it as a compliment that people expect me to win the title,” said Hamilton. “But it doesn’t make any difference to me.

“I know how much work I still have to do. If I don’t turn up this weekend in Spa, or next weekend in Monza, or if I make mistakes, I can easily lose this championship.

“There are points available to turn the tables, so I will stay focused as I have done in the past. There are still races to win, areas that I want to improve on and areas that I don’t want to drop. I truly believe I can do that.”

Hamilton’s return to action started on the back foot in Spa-Francorchamps. A throttle pedal failure restricted his participation in first practice on Friday, before he finished a distant fourth in the day’s final running, nine tenths of a second off the pace as Ferrari dominated.

“That sounds dreadful,” added Hamilton. “It was not a great start in practice one. We had a problem with the throttle and lost power. We went back out and had another problem so it was a bit of a mess.

“The car felt better later, but we still have work to do. The Ferraris look quick.

“We will keep chipping away, but we are in the mix.”

Remarkably Ferrari, expected to challenge Hamilton’s Mercedes team this year, will start the concluding half of the campaign having failed to register a single win. Indeed, Sebastian Vettel has not celebrated a victory since beating Hamilton to the chequered flag at this very venue 12 months ago.

Sebastian Vettel on his way to top spot in first practice
Sebastian Vettel on his way to top spot in first practice (Francisco Seco/PA)

But the straight-line speed of Vettel’s Ferrari is suited to the Spa-Francorchamps layout, and the German was fastest in first practice before team-mate Charles Leclerc led the way by six tenths in the afternoon session. Bottas was third ahead of Hamilton.

London-born Alex Albon has been promoted from Toro Rosso to Red Bull in place of Pierre Gasly and the 23-year-old will be pleased with his first runs in his new drive.

Albon was within one tenth of team-mate Verstappen in the opening session and then three tenths down in the afternoon, finishing 10th.

The second session ended prematurely after Sergio Perez’s Racing Point car momentarily caught fire in the closing minutes. The fifth-ranked Mexican emerged unscathed.

British teenager Lando Norris was only 15th, four places behind McLaren team-mate Carlos Sainz.

George Russell, who sat out the opening session after he was replaced by Nicholas Latifi on Friday morning, returned to his Williams to finish last but one, half-a-second clear of team-mate Robert Kubica.

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