Lewis Hamilton says Sebastian Vettel's title rivals face a 'very, very tough' task
Merc driver admits World Champion's rivals have a mountain to climb
By Mike Wise and James Galloway
Last Updated: 26/08/13 2:10pm
Vettel's comprehensive victory in Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix allowed him to extend his lead in the drivers' standings to 46 points. Fernando Alonso now leads the pursuit after finishing second at Spa and with Kimi Raikkonen retiring from the race, Hamilton moved up to third overall after completing the podium.
Yet the feeling from the Mercedes star post-race was that if he, Alonso and Raikkonen had a mountain to climb heading into the weekend then it has just become a whole lot steeper.
If it wasn't Vettel's domination at a track on which Red Bull have, relatively speaking, struggled in the past that left Hamilton sounding somewhat deflated afterwards, then it might simply be the numbers, which speak for themselves.
Coming into the weekend, Hamilton needed to outscore Vettel by 5.3 points per race; that figure now stands at 7.4 points per race.
"It's going to be very, very tough undoubtedly," Hamilton said on Sunday evening. "He's just had a phenomenal car for a long, long time and it's still phenomenally quick - and he does the job. It's a perfect package.
"But we've had some really strong races and we've been there or thereabouts competing with him, and we have finished ahead of him in the past. So it doesn't mean we can't do that onward in these next races.
"But it's getting closer and closer to the point where we really need to be finishing ahead every single time to close that gap."
Buoyed by his maiden win for the Silver Arrows in Hungary at the end of July, Hamilton had been hoping for more at Spa.
He might have claimed pole in the weather-induced lottery that was Saturday's Q3 shoot-out but Mercedes otherwise found the going tough.
That much was made blindingly obvious on the opening lap of the race, when Vettel breezed past him to take the lead, and also shortly after Hamilton's first pit stop when, passed by Alonso, he couldn't find the speed to retake second place from the Ferrari driver.
With Spa and Monza unique in their low downforce characteristics, Hamilton's fear is that the same scenario might play out at the forthcoming Italian Grand Prix.
"When you come to these two circuits, you get a downforce package and you're kind of stuck with it. It either has or hasn't worked," he explained.
"We may improve in the next race or we may be in the same position. We won't be any worse, that's for sure.
"The two guys ahead, I expect they'll be favourites for the next race, unless we can unlock more performance in a straight line.
"It's just overall efficiency. They've been able to take off more wing but still been able to maintain good downforce.
"We're just trying to understand where we've missed out. But I think the guys will work to try and understand over the next few days where we were slower. Eau Rouge was particularly slow for us, and down the straights.
"At the next race, maybe we'll be unable to unlock something."
Again, Vettel has tended to have the whip hand when F1 leaves Europe in recent seasons, but Hamilton nevertheless believes that Mercedes could be more competitive from Singapore onwards.
"We'll have the high downforce package we had in the previous races which should, hopefully, be improved again. I'm hoping we'll be more competitive from then on," he added.