SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium: Lewis Hamilton insisted on Friday (Saturday in Manila) that he has no intention of slowing down to mark his 200th Formula One race at this weekend’s keenly anticipated Belgian Grand Prix.
After being outpaced in the morning’s free practice, he bounced back to top the afternoon times before rain swept across the majestic Spa-Francorchamps circuit where on Sunday he will seek to trim Sebastian Vettel’s 14-point lead with his third Belgian victory.
“You would think after 200 races that your passion or desire to win might fade, but it’s stronger than ever,” said the three-time world champion, who is also bidding to draw level with Michael Schumacher in the record books on Saturday with his 68th career pole position.
It might be an emotional achievement as the Schumacher family is marking the 25th anniversary of the German’s maiden victory, in Belgium in 1992, with son Mick driving the track in his father’s 1994 Benetton car to honor his father’s achievements.
“It’s crazy to think that I’m reaching that milestone,” said Hamilton. “I still feel young at heart — so it’s good. It’s crazy to think that I have been in Formula One as long as I have. I feel very privileged.”
Having enjoyed the three-week break from racing, Hamilton said he felt ready to mount a serious challenge for his fourth world title.
“I want the next nine (races) to all be (perfect),” he said. “I’m going to be ahead in every single race from now on and that’s my goal. No games. I am here to win. I want it just as much if not more than anyone else.”
Hamilton topped the second session times ahead of Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari, who was fastest ahead of him in the morning session.
He clocked a best lap in one minute and 44.753 seconds to finish 0.262sec ahead of Raikkonen who marked the confirmation of his Ferrari contract for 2018 with a speedy showing in Belgium.
Crash sidelines Massa
The session began in bright and dry conditions, but finished in teeming rain as the micro-climate of the forests of the Belgian Ardennes delivered a capricious dose of its changeable weather.
Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was third quickest ahead of Max Verstappen of Red Bull and championship leader Vettel.
Daniel Ricciardo, who was 1.32sec off the leading pace, was sixth in the second Red Bull ahead of Nico Hulkenberg of Renault, Esteban Ocon of Force India, Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso and Jolyon Palmer in the second Renault.
Felipe Massa of Williams took no part in the session after crashing and damaging his car on his opening lap in the first session on Friday, an accident he said was not attributable in any way to a dose of vertigo that sidelined him during last month’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
For Hamilton, it was an excellent start to a key weekend.
“The car felt strong all-round, straight out of the box. We made good steps with the set-up right from the start, which is a really encouraging way to kick off the weekend.”
He said he had enjoyed many highlights ahead of this weekend’s milestone outing, when he will chase a 58th career win.
“I can’t think of what’s been my favorite race. It would probably be a wet race when you’ve really gone through a lot of difficulties — because it is so difficult in the wet conditions.”
He also dismissed the idea that title rival Vettel might replace Bottas next year.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that he will be here,” he said. “I don’t think he wants to be my team-mate. He would not be in the position he is now in his team (Ferrari) in terms of how the team operates if he was here.”