Lewis Hamilton enjoying 'hunter' role and aims to crank up pressure on Nico Rosberg
Briton takes early honours in Austria as Rosberg eyes set-up improvement
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 21/06/14 10:42am
An upbeat Lewis Hamilton believes that being the “hunter” in the championship battle will bring out the best in him as he seeks to apply title pressure on Nico Rosberg after setting a blistering pace on day one at the Austrian GP.
Hamilton heads into this weekend 22 points adrift of his Mercedes team-mate in the drivers’ standings but got his challenge at the Red Bull Ring – a track he had never driven on before - off to a positive start on Friday by setting the pace from Rosberg by nearly four tenths of a second.
Asked by Sky Sports News after the encouraging session if he felt that being the ‘hunter’ in the title fight brought out the best in him, the Briton replied: “For sure hunting definitely brings out the better side.
“When you’re in front you feel vulnerable and you’re open, any mistake you make you’re going to be caught up. So hopefully I can continue to apply that pressure.”
With the battle for the 2014 crown remaining a private affair between the Mercedes stable-mates entering the mid-phase of the season, any error from either driver is therefore likely to have especially long-lasting consequences.
Hamilton has already lost two likely big points hauls through unreliability from his W05 but on Friday was buoyed by his debut performance around the Red Bull Ring.
Although only four men on the current grid had driven an F1 around the former A1 Ring prior to Friday practice, other drivers had raced around the 4.3km track in the junior categories – including Rosberg in 2002-2003.
“Not bad considering I’ve never driven here before,” Hamilton noted.
“In the first session with that I did I was already feeling really comfortable and always finding time the more and more laps I do, finding new lines and different things out there.
“To be as quick as I was considering others around me had driven this track was a really good feeling.”
Although Hamilton's points deficit to Rosberg equates to less than a single race victory, the size of Mercedes' superiority over the rest of the field means Hamilton has very little room for error remaining if he is to overcome his team-mate in the standings.
"I’m still totally confident I can overhaul the 22-point advantage my team-mate Nico Rosberg has over me now, but it has become even more apparent than it already was that I need to be finishing every race," he wrote in a blog on his personl website. "Twenty-two points is still catchable, especially as we have effectively 13 races still to go with double points at the last race, but another situation like that and that gap might start to get too big."
With attention already turning to the Mercedes pair’s latest duel for pole on Saturday, Hamilton insisted that while he didn’t see it as imperative on this track, it was still his obvious target come Q3.
“I don’t actually think pole is going to be the most important thing because there’s a long, long straight up to Turn Two,” he said. “But I’d still like to start on pole, so that’s my goal.”
Rosberg, meanwhile, lost touch with Hamilton in the later P2 runs on the supersoft tyres and admitted to Sky Sports News afterwards that his side of the garage had work to do to improve the handling of his W05.
“There are a few things that weren’t ideal, so just pushing on and trying to sort everything out,” the championship leader said.
“A new track so it’s always a learning process every lap. There are a few areas of the car like braking and general balance – and it was bouncing a lot down the straight just now. That goes into the braking zone, so it’s a very unusual feeling and we need to look into that.”
However, despite ending Friday with an unusually large gap to his team-mate, Rosberg, polesitter at the last two events, pointed out: “It was there in Montreal also and then when it was qualifying I was right where I needed [to be].”
This weekend’s Austrian GP is live only on Sky Sports F1. Race Day coverage begins with the Track Parade at 11.30am on Sunday