|© AP Photo/Luca Bruno
Lewis Hamilton has been training hard over the mid-season break to give himself the best possible chance of catching leader Sebastian Vettel with nine races left, starting at Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix.
The Mercedes driver signalled his return to form with a win from the front at the Hungarian GP last month and will look to secure his fourth consecutive pole position in Spa. Hamilton is fourth overall and has 48 points to make up on Vettel, the three-time defending champion.
Hamilton usually spends the mid-season break relaxing but this time he chose to increase his training regime and has not given up hope of repeating his 2008 title.
"To close that gap is a long way to go, (but) there's still a long way to go in the championship so nothing's impossible," Hamilton said. "I feel good in myself, coming here knowing I have a car I can fight with.
"I've been training really hard over the break, which has been a lot different to the last six years," he added. "The last six years I've taken it as a real holiday. I just fancied doing something different. I just really kept myself busy. I wasn't on the beach chilling."
At the same stage last season, the 28-year-old Hamilton was dealing with issues surrounding his future and tensions between him and Jenson Button escalated in tandem with the speculation.
"Not knowing where I was planning to go was a constant drain, taking away energy," he said. "It's just a great feeling coming here. I'm settled in my new team, happy where I am now, looking forward to a successful three years with them."
Vettel wary of Mercedes’ challenge
Vettel was in a similar position to Hamilton last year, coming to Spa trailing Fernando Alonso by 42 points. He clawed those back and won the title at the last race.
Vettel is 38 points ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and 39 ahead of Alonso. But Hamilton is expected by many to emerge as Vettel's direct challenger.
"Mercedes has been very, very competitive, not just Lewis - also Nico (Rosberg), who won two races," Vettel said. "We know that they're very quick in qualifying. Hungary, in a way, for the first time they had the ability to show their speed in the race as well."
Hamilton's win in Budapest was indicative of a marked improvement in the car's consistency, because while Mercedes had the speed advantage over Red Bull it lacked durability for a whole race.
"Surely the last couple of races they were most competitive," said the 26-year-old Vettel, who still considers Alonso and Raikkonen a threat.
"Lotus have always been there scoring points with Kimi. Ferrari has a bit of a lull at the moment, still they've got good points," he said. "All of these teams and these drivers you have to keep them in mind. For us it's not that important to pick one particular driver."