Lewis Hamilton insists that he can still be a factor in the 2013 F1 world championship, despite going into the last nine races some 48 points adrift of leader Sebastian Vettel.

While the gap itself is not insurmountable, the reliability shown by each of the frontrunners has ensured that the Briton's gains have been limited but, after winning the last race before the summer break, in Hungary, he remains optimistic about closing the gap and taking the title fight as close to the wire as he can.

Hamilton's Mercedes team has been the class of qualifying, having taken seven pole positions from the ten races so far, but struggled to convert that supremacy into race wins at the start of the year. However, with three wins in five races - Nico Rosberg having won in Monaco and Silverstone prior to Hamilton's Hungarian success - and what appears to be a breakthrough in terms of managing tyre wear issues, the Brackley team has confirmed itself as a contender even if Hamilton still has to overcome both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen before tackling Vettel.

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"It is going to be hard to continually stay ahead [Alonso and Raikkonen] as they are both massively consistent," the Briton told journalists as the Belgian Grand Prix weekend got underway, "Kimi has finished every race for God knows how long, but I am hunting them down. I am hunting Fernando at the moment, trying to close the gap and overtake him. Then I will move on to Kimi."

Despite a tough start to his Spa weekend, Hamilton remained hopeful of closing on Vettel before the championship begins its final swing through Asia and the Americas.

"We need to constantly be gaining on [Vettel], which is not going to be easy because they are massively competitive," he admitted, "But [Red Bull] have not been the strongest at this track for a while, so I hope that remains the same as it gives us the chance to close up a little bit."

Hamilton's hopes did not look too promising after the first day of practice in the Ardennes, however, as Vettel out-paced everyone bar Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber by at least eight-tenths of a second. Hamilton, meanwhile, was only twelfth fastest in the wet, and 15th in the dry....

"We have some work ahead of us this evening to get the car feeling just right but, overall, today was a reasonable start to the weekend," he insisted, "The car feels very different here with the low downforce set-up, compared to at the last race and we need to refine a few areas to get the balance sorted. We were able to get some good long run work done today though, and that's the most important thing for the race.

"We've got time to make the changes required so I'm optimistic that tomorrow will see an improvement. The Red Bulls are obviously very quick, but I don't think they're unbeatable."