Lewis Hamilton believes Formula One’s summer break has arrived at the right time after conceding that his championship battle against Sebastian Vettel is proving to be the most difficult of his decade-long career.
The 32-year-old British driver lost further ground to Vettel in this year’s title race after he selflessly gave up third place to his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Hamilton is now 14 points behind Vettel, who took the chequered flag at the Hungaroring to claim his fourth victory of the year, in a championship race which the German has led from the outset.
Hamilton has also won four times this year – in China, Spain, Canada and at Silverstone, too – but those victories have been surrounded by a number of inconsistent displays.
For now, Hamilton is officially off-duty, and his first port of call is understood to be Colorado. A trip to Barbados for the Crop Over festival – a favourite destination of Hamilton’s in recent years – is also likely to be in the offing.
“I definitely feel like the summer break has come at a good time,” Hamilton said.
“It has been a very tough year, physically, mentally and emotionally for everyone at the team.
“It has been a difficult season up until now, and I think this break will be really good for everyone to recharge and hopefully come back fresh. I encourage my team to come back strong and I’ll try to come back even stronger.”
Hamilton would have started the second half of the season – which reconvenes at Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps Circuit in the final week of August – 11 points behind Vettel had he not relinquished third to Bottas on the final corner on Sunday.
Hamilton started the final lap eight seconds ahead of Bottas, before yielding for his team-mate. The Briton still believes he can usurp Vettel and claim his fourth title however.
“I don’t think I will ever get those three points back,” Hamilton added. “We have given up a lot of points, and Ferrari have given up a lot less as a team.
“I truly believe we have the capability of winning this championship, but it is going to take absolutely 100 per cent of everyone’s effort to pull it off.”
Bottas is 33 points adrift of Vettel in the title race, and 19 shy of Hamilton. Ferrari have thrown their full support behind Vettel, with Kimi Raikkonen, who is 86 points behind his team-mate, playing second fiddle for the Italian marque.
But with Bottas still effectively in the championship, Mercedes have been reluctant to back Hamilton.
And Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes Mercedes’ commendable policy could cost Hamilton the title.
“I was impressed that Lewis gave the position back, but you are just giving away more points to your biggest rival,” Horner said.
“Ultimately it will probably come down to Lewis and Seb, but Ferrari’s positioning with Kimi is far clearer.
“The dilemma Mercedes have got is that Hamilton is their lead driver and at some point you have got to back a horse.”