Lewis Hamilton is out for blood in the second half of the Formula One season as he seeks to overturn Sebastian Vettel’s championship lead.
Hamilton, who will compete in his 200th race here as the sport returns to action deep in the Ardennes, is 14 points adrift of Vettel with nine grands prix remaining.
Surprisingly, there will be no celebration of Hamilton’s landmark race ahead of Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix. No cake and no staged photographs, perhaps at Hamilton’s request in view of not being distracted from his title charge.
Hamilton has finished on the podium just once in his last four outings, and can ill-afford to lose further ground to Vettel in his quest for a fourth title.
The fast-sweeping nature of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit is expected to suit Hamilton’s Mercedes car, and on the evidence of practice, he will be in prime position to get his stuttering title assault back on track.
Hamilton, also bidding to match Michael Schumacher’s all-time pole record in qualifying on Saturday, was comfortably fastest in practice with his Ferrari rival Vettel a distant fifth.
“I thought about so many different things during the summer,” said Hamilton, who spent the four-week break in America, Barbados and Cuba. “I thought about how many races I have left, and how many seasons I have left.
“The one thing that’s for sure, and the most prominent thing, is that I am here for blood. I am here to win. I am here to stay.
“When you have been racing for so long you would think that the passion and desire to win would fade, but it is stronger than ever, and that’s exciting for me.”
Hamilton will become the 17th driver to reach his double ton when the lights go out on Sunday.
The Englishman burst on to the scene as a fresh-faced 22-year-old at the 2007 Australian Grand Prix. He finished third that day in Melbourne, and went on to record nine consecutive podium finishes – including his first victory at the Canadian Grand Prix – in an almost flawless opening campaign. Indeed he fell just one agonising point short of winning the title.
The following year he made amends by securing the first of his three championships after overtaking Timo Glock on the final corner of the final lap of a thrilling season-concluding race in Brazil.
“There have been so many amazing moments over these 10 years,” Hamilton, 32, added. “It has been such a blessing and such a great experience.
“There have been so many highlights. My first grand prix. My first win, my first win at Silverstone, my first win at Monaco, and winning the title in Abu Dhabi in 2014. Winning the championship in Brazil is a highlight, too.
“I have learnt from the bad races and the difficult times, and I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.”
Of course Hamilton’s career has not been without controversy, but it is one which will see him finish among the most decorated drivers of all time, with 57 victories, second only to Schumacher, and 67 poles already under his belt.
On Saturday, he has another chance to match Schumacher’s pole haul at the scene of the seven-time champion’s first F1 victory 25 years ago. Little is known of the German’s current condition following his skiing accident in December 2013, but Mick Schumacher, 18, will mark his father’s first win by driving his world championship-winning Benetton in the moments ahead of Sunday’s race.
It is a race which threatens to be hit by bad weather, but Hamilton, so often a master in the rain, is typically not fazed.
“My favourite race would be a wet race when you have to overcome certain obstacles,” Hamilton added. “When you can exploit your car in a way nobody thought you could, that is amazing.”