Mercedes-Benz motorsport vice-president Norbert Haug insists that he will not be drawn into making predictions as to when Lewis Hamilton might win this year's Formula One world championship, despite the Briton holding a seven-point lead with three races to run.
Mindful that Hamilton - and, it must be said, McLaren-Mercedes - contrived to throw away a bigger advantage in the closing stages of the 2007 campaign, Haug shrugged off suggestions that the Briton could sew up the title before the season finale in Brazil.
"I am making no such predictions," he told Germany's Bild
, having been asked whether he thought the title could come in either Japan or China, "Last season, we had as many as 21 points' advantage but, in the end, Lewis lost the world championship by a point to Kimi Räikkönen....
"Three grands prix within three weeks, on two different continents, in three different time zones, is a big challenge for all drivers and teams. Since Lewis's victory in Silverstone, where he re-gained the championship lead, McLaren has scored 77 points, while our closest competitors, Ferrari and BMW Sauber, have achieved 43 and 46 points respectively. Lewis has scored 46 points during that time and, for the seventh time in a row, arrives at a grand prix as the championship leader. Everybody in the team will work hard to achieve that at the final race in Brazil.”
Haug believes, too, that Hamilton is a different creature this time around, despite it still only being his second season in the top flight, and will be more focused on what it takes to win the title, rather than going for race wins at every round.
"Lewis is an entirely special talent," he insisted, "He has done just 32 F1 races, but has scored more points in that period than every other driver. And he permanently wants to learn something new.
"For me, there are four races that stand out this year - Monaco, Silverstone, Hockenheim and Spa - where Lewis hunted down [his opposition], and spectacularly overtook them. That is what the spectators want to see – the heart and the soul of F1. But, because Lewis is no robot, he is a person and will also, once in a while, make a mistake.
"However, I would say that he has strongly developed. He is a positive individual, but is critical with himself. He comes to the team, and to me, to get advice, not necessarily about driving, but about handling Formula One in general, which is something that we naturally have more experience of."
Hamilton's change of mindset could be seen in Valencia, where he accepted third place knowing that both Ferraris - and especially title rival Felipe Massa - were a way behind him. However, Haug reckoned that the result could have been different had it not been for the current safety car rules.
“Up until his first pit-stop, Lewis was in second position, but the first safety car period, beginning on lap 15, brought forward those drivers who had pitted shortly before," he reflected, "Among them was David [Coulthard], who was ahead of Lewis for 20 laps after his pit-stop and drove significantly more slowly than Lewis' race speed would have allowed. Drivers who could race without traffic after the safety car deployment had an advantage....”