Lewis Hamilton has admitted that consistency in the final seven races of the year will be the key factor in deciding the outcome of the 2008 Formula 1 title race.

The McLaren Mercedes man will head into the European Grand Prix in Valencia next weekend with a slender five point lead over defending champion Kimi Raikkonen in the drivers' championship, while Felipe Massa is a further three points behind in what is shaping up to be a close fight to secure the title. Despite a disappointing run of form in recent events, BMW's Robert Kubica also retains an outside hope of taking the crown although the Pole now lies 13 points off the pace in fourth place.

Although Hamilton is the form man of the top three over the last three races - which included back-to-back wins in Britain and Germany - the Hungarian GP earlier this month showed how quickly fortunes can change after Massa's late engine problem saw him lose victory and allowed Hamilton to extend his lead in the points - with Raikkonen moving up to second place on the back of his sixth podium finish on the year.

And it is that race in particular that leads Hamilton to believe that consistency will be key over the remainder of the season, with the year to date having been one that seems to swing from one driver to another on a race-by-race basis.

"Looking back at the season so far, it feels like a different championship compared to last year: 2007 was very intense and consistency was incredibly important," he said. "This year, everybody's results have been more varied and every driver who has won a race has also failed to score on at least two other occasions. That's made getting strong results even more important, but I think we'll see consistency becoming crucial as we head towards the end of the season.

"I'm wary of making predictions - the race in Hungary showed just how unpredictable Formula 1 can be, and that's one of the reasons why it's such a fascinating sport. Clearly, though, I am still in a good position to challenge for the world championship and that remains my aim. We still feel confident about our chances - we know our rivals will be strong, but we've worked hard to improve the car and are confident we'll be competitive this weekend. The most important thing is to finish consistently in the points."

Hamilton will hope to extend his lead next weekend as Valencia plays host to the European Grand Prix for the first time and the Briton admitted that he couldn't wait to sample the street venue for the first time.

"Of course, we've done some preparation back at the McLaren Technology Centre ahead of this race, but our main focus will still be the three free practice sessions ahead of qualifying," he said. "I'll be working closely with my engineers to make sure we start the weekend with a good baseline and work hard to strengthen it as we go through the weekend.

"I enjoy visiting new racetracks and I'm looking forward to getting into the cockpit on Friday morning. It looks like being an amazing track."


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