Reigning Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has insisted that he is refusing to write off his chances of staging a remarkable comeback to successfully defend his hard-fought crown come season's end – even though he could be knocked out of contention as soon as the next race.
Following McLaren-Mercedes' abject start to the 2009 campaign – one that saw Hamilton notch up a mere nine points from the opening nine grands prix, when at the same stage last year and the year before he had respectively 48 and 70 to his name – the British star was quick to dismiss his hopes of holding onto his title and urged for the focus to be shifted to 2010.
Since the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, however, the Woking-based outfit's challenge has suddenly come alive, and over the following two races in Budapest and Valencia its talisman driver was the highest-scoring competitor in the field.
Despite an opening lap retirement at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend, the results have kept Hamilton mathematically in the reckoning – and though at 45 points adrift of the lead with only 50 remaining up for grabs he is clearly a rank outsider for glory, given the latent unpredictabilities of the season with the likes of Force India on pole position and the podium and Jenson Button's once seemingly inexorable championship march veering dangerously off-track, the 24-year-old argues anything is still possible.
“It was a really odd feeling to be stood at the side of the track watching the others come through behind the safety car,” he confessed of his short-lived Belgian Grand Prix adventure. “To be honest, I can't even remember the last time I failed to finish a race; the reliability of our car has been so phenomenal that it rarely happens, so it was definitely a feeling I couldn't really get used to.
“It was a pity, because I love racing at Spa and I was really looking forward to a strong, attacking afternoon. I hadn't had the best of starts and I'd lost a few places, but I was pretty confident that we'd have the car beneath us to help us get back into the points. We know we've taken huge steps with the car since the start of the summer, but it's frustrating that we didn't get to see our race pace at Spa on Sunday.
“I think Monza is going to be quite a bit different from in the past, because we're not testing there before the race. In previous years, there was always a big test at Monza before the race and that allowed you to get the balance right and, as a driver, to get yourself prepared for the high speeds of the track.
“Now, we'll be arriving 'cold' on Friday morning and it will take a bit of work for everyone to get their cars working properly and just to get used to the lack of downforce that you need to run at Monza. That could have a very interesting effect on the order, particularly if the weather affects running, like it did last year.
“I think all the drivers love Monza, though; it's one of the most historic and famous circuits on the calendar, like Spa, Monaco and Silverstone. Winning any of those big four races is a special achievement because, as a driver, you really feel a part of the sport's history because you've seen photographs and old TV footage of those circuits from all those years ago.