Formula 1 World Championship leader Lewis Hamilton has insisted that, whilst inwardly he may believe he is the best driver in the top flight, he will not have proved it on-track until he wins the world title and carries the highly-coveted number '1' on his car.
Following the failure of McLaren-Mercedes' appeal over Hamilton's Spa-Francorchamps penalty, the British star heads into this weekend's inaugural Singapore Grand Prix – the sport's first-ever night race – with just a single-point margin over Ferrari's Felipe Massa in the chase for the crown, and 40 remaining to play for.
Though predicted rain looks set to favour McLaren – with its scarlet rivals tending to struggle in cooler, damp conditions as the F2008 does not heat up its rubber as swiftly or efficiently as the Woking-based outfit's MP4-23 – the fact that Bridgestone is taking along its soft and super-soft tyre compounds could turn the tide back towards the Scuderia
, Hamilton fears.
“Everyone is facing the unknown in Singapore,” the 23-year-old is quoted as having said by British newspaper the Daily Telegraph
, “but we have a competitive package and, hopefully, we can challenge for victory.
“This weekend does feel a little bit different. It's my first time here and the track looks a bit special, but it is quite odd staying up until four or five in the morning. When you wake at 2pm it feels as though you've had a long sleep-in, which isn't so bad, but it's already dark by 8pm and my 'days' still have a few hours to go, so things feel really weird.
“McLaren and Ferrari use their tyres slightly differently. They struggle more with tyre temperature, but look after their rubber better over a long run. Here we are using the same tyres as we did in Valencia – and Ferrari were very competitive there.
“They will be strong this weekend, but so will we. It will be down to putting a good qualifying lap together and being out in front. There are still 40 points to play for, so you can't take anything for granted. I still feel Kimi Raikkonen and others will be competitive [too].”
Responding finally to claims that – world title or not – he is now the best driver in the top flight, Hamilton gave short shrift, insisting that he is 'just a normal guy taking part in this huge business' and that until the drivers' trophy is his, nothing will have been proved.
“I've had a talent since I was very young,” the eight-time grand prix winner reflected, “and it was a question of taking that, grabbing it with both hands and trying to nurture it.
“From a young age I've learned how to take the positives from a bad weekend. I drive my heart out and my family is right behind me.
“I have never been one to make such claims [that he is F1's number one driver], because they can come back to bite you in the butt. I will only have proved that when I have number one on my car.”