Hamilton knows he must find top gear to catch championship leader Vettel

LEWIS Hamilton knows he has to raise his game if he is to achieve his ambition of destroying the rest of the Formula 1 field this season.

Unlike McLaren team-mate Jenson Button, who headed into the summer break on a high following his victory in Hungary, for Hamilton it was a different scenario. The 26-year-old departed Budapest with a sense of what might have been as he had the win in his grasp, only to throw it all away via a spin into oncoming traffic that incurred a drive-through penalty. Instead of taking a further bite out of Sebastian Vettel’s lead, as he had done the race previously with victory in Germany, Hamilton found himself 88 points adrift of the reigning champion.

It is a situation which has left him no longer thinking of the championship because, as he concedes: “I could easily get upset about it.” But then in the same breath he claims Vettel is “catchable”, at least if he and the team “work collectively”, and in particular if he is able “to strike a balance between aggression and being conservative”.

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So with eight grands prix remaining, starting in Belgium tomorrow, it is the obvious case of taking one race at a time. For the 26-year-old, there can be none of the mistakes that have occurred in some of his races, such as in Hungary. “What’s important is that I drive the best I have ever driven,” said Hamilton. “I think at the last race I wasn’t at the top of my game, so I want to make sure I am at my best, and that’s what I’m working towards. The team are also working towards being at their best so together we can destroy the field.”

With 200 points still available, and at a Spa-Francorchamps circuit where Hamilton feels he has twice been a winner – he was demoted to third in 2008 after an incident – his hopes are high for tomorrow. “I really do feel we can be competitive, I feel optimistic for us as a team,” he added. “It will be very special for us, after going into the summer with a great feeling, to come out of it and get our first one-two. That’s our goal.”

Following the first two 90-minute rain-hit practice sessions ahead of the race, Hamilton was fourth quickest behind Mark Webber in his Red Bull, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren team-mate Button. Force India’s Paul Di Resta, on his first outing at the track for seven years, endured a minor crash in the morning run, recovering to finish ninth in the afternoon.