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Lewis Hamilton plans damage limitation at Belgian GP

Kimi Raikkonen

2009 Belgian Grand Prix highlights

By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport at Spa

Lewis Hamilton feels Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix could be a case of damage limitation as the title fight resumes.

The McLaren driver is four points behind Red Bull's Mark Webber, but does not expect McLaren to reduce their pace deficit to rivals Red Bull and Ferrari.

"I don't think anything is going to change," said Hamilton. "I expect our car to be very much the same as it was in the last race [in Hungary].

"These guys will be quick, especially the Red Bull," added Hamilton.

Hamilton is one of five drivers in the running for the championship with just seven races left.

Hamilton, team-mate Jenson Button, the Red Bulls of Webber and Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso are separated by just 20 points - less than the score awarded for a race win.

606: DEBATE
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Before Formula 1's summer break, which included an enforced two-week factory shutdown when teams could not develop their cars, McLaren found themselves almost two seconds short of Red Bull in terms of pure pace and half a second behind Ferrari.

Hamilton, who is chasing a second world title to add to his 2008 crown, is not expecting that gap to close at Spa's challenging circuit.

"Every time I've gone on the track on the Friday and Saturday, I've commented that this is the best the car has ever felt - but it's still not quick enough compared to the others," said Hamilton.

"We believe that there is still some downforce in the car that we've not been able to draw out and the team are working flat out to pull that out.

"We have to do some more tests on Friday and Saturday to understand where the extra time and downforce is - only once we've done that can we really move forward."

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton relaxed and raring to go

McLaren team-mate Jenson Button was more optimistic about the team's chances at Spa, where the medium downforce track, with its long straights in the first and third sectors, should suit the McLaren.

Button is confident the team have resolved some of their problems maximising performance from the exhaust blown diffuser that they introduced to the car at Silverstone.

"We'll be pretty good with it here," said Button, who is 14 points behind Webber and fourth in the championship.

"We've made some extra improvements and we should have a bigger benefit than normal - it's not 1.7 seconds but it will be a step forward.

"This race is important to us and I can't see any reason why we can't be competitive.

"The Ferraris and Red Bulls might be pegged back a little bit in terms of pace because of changes in the [front wing] regulations.

"It doesn't end the championship if we don't score well here [and in Monza] - but it makes the last five [races] even more difficult."

The pace advantage of Red Bull and Ferrari has been credited by other teams to bodywork that is flexing illegally.

Attention is focused on the front wings and forward part of the under-floor.

The FIA intends to subject these parts to heavier load tests - which ensure the car's structure meets minimum rigidity requirements - in Spa and at the following race in Italy in a fortnight to allay other teams' suspicions that their bodywork is flexing more than it should.

Red Bull and Ferrari are adamant their cars comply with the regulations.

Red Bull have taken 11 poles this season and, despite the more stringent testing, remained confident there would be little to stop them adding another to their tally in Belgium.

Sebastian Vettel

Vettel coy over Red Bull front wing changes

"Looking back at last year we were very strong in sector two with all the high-speed corners but in sectors one and three we lost," explained Vettel, who is 10 points behind Webber in third.

"This year I think we have a better car in all kinds of conditions and corners. We have definitely made a step forward and so should be stronger here.

"We are all very tight on points and so you have to keep pushing until the end.

"The championship starts from zero now and we have to focus on every single race. With only seven to go every single one is more important."

Webber shared Vettel's caution on his and the team's title chances with a possible 175 points still to play for.

The Australian regained the lead with his fourth victory of the season in Hungary but refused to label himself as the title favourite.

"It's nice to have a few points but I'm just mindful that I have to keep doing what I'm doing," a cautious Webber said.

"I could finish sixth in this championship yet - so we can only ask those questions with two races to go.

"With this points system, we need to finish. And that comes down to reliability and making decisions on Sunday."

Alonso, the world champion for Renault in 2005 and 2006, propelled himself back into contention with a controversial victory in Germany and second place in Hungary.

Ferrari have arrived in Spa with an updated diffuser and some aerodynamic tweaks and the Spaniard was bullish about his chances of a third consecutive podium in Belgium.

Mark Webber

Webber looking for strong finish to season

"There is no reason to be pessimistic," said Alonso, who is fifth in the standings.

"I think we should be the opposite; we need to be very focused and optimistic and believe in ourselves and hopefully repeat what we did in Hungary and Hockenheim.

"I have a 50% chance of winning the world championship; 20 points is a very small difference, so [now it is] a seven-race championship.

"We have improved the car in the past three races and now have a very competitive package.

"We know Red Bull will be strong everywhere, we know McLaren will be strong at some circuits and so we expect very tough competition, but we also have the experience of fighting for a world championship."

First practice for the Belgian Grand Prix begins at 0900 BST on Friday.



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see also
Hamilton fired up for title fight
20 Aug 10 |  Formula 1
Hamilton excited by title battle
04 Aug 10 |  Formula 1
Webber seals vital win in Hungary
01 Aug 10 |  Formula 1


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