Lewis Hamilton insists that he is not feeling under any extra pressure to perform in this weekend's inaugural Korean Grand Prix, despite needing to finish ahead of his championship rivals in order to claw his way back into the title fight.
After two successive DNFs in Italy and Singapore, the Briton dropped further back when his gearbox restricted him to fifth place in Japan, and currently lies 28 points adrift of overall leader Mark Webber, the first time he has been more than a win away from top spot all season. With just three races left, Hamilton admits that he faces a tough task to reclaim the world title, but insists that he is under no more pressure than the four drivers he is contending with.
"It's just another race, and there are still races to go," he explained to the official F1 website, "I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so the pressure must really be on the others. The pressure to score as many points as possible is always there and, of course, it starts to escalate a bit towards the end of the season, but I have been doing this since I was eight years old, so it's no big deal."
Hamilton, and team-mate Jenson Button, received a boost to their fading hopes after the latest developments appeared to push McLaren back into the mix with Red Bull and Ferrari at the head of the field. The 2008 world champion topped the times in opening practice at the all-new Yeongam circuit, and ended the day third fastest behind Webber and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso. With Button fifth in both sessions, the Woking team looks to be in better form than at Suzuka, but the close battle at the front of the field leads Hamilton to suggest that the man behind the wheel could be the key ingredient this weekend.
"We have a range of new bits on the car and, although we had some of them already in Japan, they seem to work better here," he confirmed, "We spent a lot of time doing as much running with those new components to get relevant feedback, and the overall impression of the two [Friday] sessions is that we are quite competitive - at least as competitive as the Red Bulls - and that's a good thing.
"The car feels pretty good and be sure that we will do all we can with it. But it is not only about us and the Red Bulls - the Renaults looked pretty quick and also the Ferraris. You could probably say that these cars are all pretty evenly matched and it is all about the driver being able to pull out the most time."
Hamilton's optimism was boosted by McLaren's performance on what was tipped to be a Red Bull circuit, the Briton able to out-pace Webber and Sebastian Vettel in FP1 despite only being quicker through the first sector of the new circuit. He also went to the top of the times having sat out much of the 90 minutes, as he waited for the circuit to lose the dust layer that greeted the field ahead of the session.
"It was the dirtiest track I've ever been on - it was so dusty, it was incredible, and it was not easy to get going," he reported, "But the evolution was quite dramatic. People started speeding up and, in P2, the track looked pretty good. There is still a lot of dust around - especially off-line - but the track feels quite good and is pretty fast. I think there might be another second in it, but I think, in general, we are almost there. We might see a lot more laps of 1min 37secs tomorrow - maybe even in the mid thirties.
"You need to have an efficient downforce level and a good car here. At the beginning of P1, it looked like it suited a lot more cars than it seems to do right now. People have dropped a lot of downforce to catch up. We are very quick on the straights and seem to be very competitive on the other parts of the track. Our rear wing is working and also the other new components. That is very positive. I feel quite happy with my car even though we had some minor issues with the balance in the second session. Overall, I feel pretty good."
"I think we do have the car, moreso than Ferrari, to compete with the Red Bulls, or at least be closer to them than anyone else," he confirmed in a separate interview with the BBC
, "They are not going to be perfect for all three races, so we need to make sure that we are there to take whatever they lack.
"If you looked at the championship and said it's inevitable that the Red Bulls are the fastest car and it's inevitable that they are going to win, then there's no point competing. I never approach it that way. We are all there to compete and there's still 75 points available. We just have to pull our socks up and do a better job."