SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) — As he prepares for the 200th race of his distinguished Formula One career, three-time champion Lewis Hamilton feels hungrier than ever.
He has Michael Schumacher’s pole position record of 68 within his grasp and championship leader Sebastian Vettel firmly in his sights. Heading into the Belgian Grand Prix this weekend he is 14 points behind Vettel in their hard-fought title race. Pole position on Saturday would tie Schumacher’s mark.
“Mentally, I’m ready for whatever’s to come,” Hamilton defiantly told reporters on Thursday.
“I’m here for blood. I’m here to win and I’m here to stay.”
The British driver came close to winning in his debut season in 2007, losing by one point to Kimi Raikkonen. The year after, Hamilton beat Felipe Massa by one point.
“You’d think after 200 races your passion and desire to win would fade, but it’s stronger than ever,” Hamilton said. “It’s crazy to think I’m reaching that milestone.”
Turning his thoughts to catching Vettel, he thinks his Mercedes team must improve its overall reliability in the remaining nine races.
“Ferrari has been the most consistent. We need to turn that around, that’s something we’ve been tackling from an engineering perspective,” he said. “You apply a driving style and the car doesn’t like it. You have to try a number of techniques, change a bunch of settings.”
The inconsistencies experienced by Mercedes, particularly with rear balance and tire management, have come as a surprise considering how totally dominant the Silver Arrows were over the previous three years.
Hamilton also feels he could have done more.
“There are a couple of races I could have done better,” Hamilton said. “I want the next nine races to be tens (ten out of 10).”
He definitely sounds ready to take it to Vettel. They have both won four races so far and had heated words after a tense racing incident at the Azerbaijan GP on June 25.
If it goes down to mind games, Hamilton fancies himself to come out on top.
“You don’t ever want to show weaknesses, and don’t want to show that you’re struggling mentally or physically,” Hamilton said. “I take a lot of inspiration from Serena (Williams), (Roger) Federer and (Valentino) Rossi.”
There is much at stake with Hamilton aiming for a fourth world title, and Vettel a fifth. Vettel won his last title in 2013.
Vettel has matched Hamilton for outright pace at times. But the track at Spa — nestled in the dense forest of Ardennes and the longest in F1 at seven kilometers (over four miles) — is more suited to Mercedes because of its fast corners and long straights.
Ferrari’s last win in Spa was Kimi Raikkonen’s back in 2009. Mercedes has won the past two.
Furthermore, if Hamilton needs any extra motivation, he need think about only last year’s race.
Although Hamilton finished third, it almost felt like a victory given that he started from the back of the grid after incurring a 15-place grid penalty.