Never one to bow to peer pressure, Lewis Hamilton was unequivocal in his opinion about Spa.
When asked if this circuit, beloved by drivers and fans alike, was one of his favourites, he answered simply “no”. But he was equally unequivocal in his determination to open the second half of the season with a win.
On track his Mercedes team-mate and rival, Nico Rosberg took first advantage, overcoming initial teething mechanical problems to set a time just over two-tenths of a second ahead of Hamilton’s. The German led the second session too but, just over an hour in, his right rear tyre exploded approaching Blanchimont and he was lucky not to hit the barriers in what would have been a dangerous crash.
He was, he said, at “maximum speed” but that there was no debris on track, leaving the reason for the incident still under investigation. Rosberg’s time, however, was still enough to top the standings, 0.3sec clear of his team-mate.
Perhaps Hamilton’s antipathy to Spa is a reflection of his record here. He has taken pole twice and won only once, in 2010, from eight attempts – not a happy hunting ground for a driver whose natural feel for a track and ability to exploit it to the maximum should be to his advantage in the Ardennes.
Equally last year’s experience at Spa was particularly galling for the world champion, when a clumsy move from Rosberg caused a puncture to Hamilton’s car and damage that ultimately forced his retirement from the race. He was already playing catch-up to Rosberg, who went on to take second and extend his lead at the time from 11 points to 29.
This is not, however, baggage he is carrying. “It feels really good this weekend. There is no hangover at all,” he said, before insisting he would be concentrating on himself rather than his team-mate.
“I am not conscious of what he’s got to do. I am only conscious about what I have got to do. I never worry about what other people are doing. I am only worried about what I am doing. If I am worried about what other people are doing, then I will lose focus on doing my job.”
He has an advantage in attempting to do so this year in that their positions are now reversed. Hamilton, on 202 points (the same number Rosberg had at this race last season) currently leads his team-mate by 21 points and, unlike last year, has clearly had the upper hand so far.
Equally both drivers will be aware of the psychological blow Hamilton delivered after this race last year. Rosberg was held responsible by the team and afterwards found himself outclassed by the British driver, who responded with six wins from the final seven races on his way to the title.
Rosberg, it has been noted, is often concerned with the position of Hamilton relative to his own, during races. This is entirely understandable, given the title fight is between them, but Hamilton insists his approach factors in only himself and his position on track.
“I am always looking forward. I want to win. If there is someone ahead of me, then that is all that matters,” he said. “If you are getting caught by someone and they are in your mirrors, then you might think about them. But if they are a long way back, I am just looking forward.”
Rosberg, too, said he had moved on from last year and “learned a lot”‚ understandably because he must close the gap to his team-mate in both qualifying and race pace.
In that respect the attitudes may be similar but equally the pair remained poles apart here. Rosberg noted that during the summer break he fitted a baby seat to his car for his first child, who is expected next week, while Hamilton had holidayed in Colorado, Barbados and New York.
The high profile of Hamilton, that Bernie Ecclestone admires so much for helping promote F1, was accompanied by an unusually magnanimous attitude from Hamilton.
Acknowledging that his status has brought increased attention, particularly from photographers, he admitted that, unlike many sportsmen, even this was feeding into his positive attitude. “I think it’s kind of cool and kind of neat as long as they get good pictures, not a picture of me poking my finger up my nose or something,” he said.
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