Belgian GP: Lewis Hamilton predicts ‘toughest’ battle against Max Verstappen as F1 season resumes
F1 

Lewis Hamilton believes Mercedes have “upped our game” and have “outperformed” Red Bull so far in 2021 – but is braced for an even tougher fight against Max Verstappen during a hectic second half of the season.

Hamilton heads into this weekend’s Belgian GP – the first race after what he said was a “much-needed” summer break – with an unexpected eight-point title advantage over Verstappen, having taken a huge 41 points more than his Red Bull championship rival over the past two races.

That swing in momentum is due largely to Verstappen’s two crashes – with Hamilton at Silverstone and in a first-corner pile-up in Hungary – but Hamilton insists his team have also improved against Red Bull.

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“I think we’ve definitely upped our game,” said Hamilton, before telling Sky Sports F1: “I would say we’ve outperformed them as a team, collectively. It’s difficult to say we’ve got a faster car.

“We’ve definitely improved our car, we had that one upgrade [at Silverstone] but it wasn’t a huge upgrade.

“In terms of processes, in terms of how we go about operating the car and operating over a weekend has improved, and I think we’ve just delivered a better performance.”

Hamilton, who struggled physically after the last race in Hungary and voiced concerns about potentially suffering the effects of long Covid, added that he felt “100 per cent, recharged and ready to go” for this weekend’s much-anticipated F1 return.

“I have spent time over this period just trying to make sure I am in the best shape,” Hamilton, who was treated for dizziness and fatigue post-race four weeks ago, explained. “I do feel like I am in better shape moving into the second half of the season so it is not a concern for me.

“The break was definitely much needed but it felt too long at the end. I was definitely excited to get back to work and missed working with the team and missed being in the car.”

Hamilton is, however, unsurprisingly wary of the threat of Verstappen and Red Bull despite their pre-August slump, predicting a fierce battle against them until the end of the season.

This weekend’s Belgian GP is the first of five scheduled races in six weeks, while F1 are still hoping for a 23-race calendar.

“We knew how quick they would be at the beginning, we’ve obviously seen the speed and the competitiveness of them in the past,” he said. “Of course as we got through the season, they’ve got stronger and stronger and it’s been harder for us as we’ve gone on. We’ve had a bit of a difficult patch.

“But we’ve got back to where, in terms of operating, we have in the past, and I think to a good place. But it’s going to be close, it’s going to be tough – the second half of the season.

“The first half was definitely one of the toughest and I expect it’s going to be pretty much the same in the second half, if not more difficult.”

Mercedes are currently 12 points ahead of Red Bull in the team standings.

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