LEWIS Hamilton insists last year’s crash with Nico Rosberg at the Belgian Grand Prix will have no bearing on the outcome of tomorrow’s race.
The Mercedes pair are revisiting the scene of the defining moment in their championship battle for the first time.
Dicing for the lead on lap two, Rosberg’s front wing made contact with Hamilton’s left-rear tyre. Hamilton was forced to retire following the damage he sustained in the incident while Rosberg subsequently crossed the line in second place.
Hamilton, who was therefore cast 29 points adrift of Rosberg, accused his team-mate of deliberately crashing into him. The German later accepted responsibility for the incident and was issued with a substantial fine by Mercedes.
Rosberg, whose wife Vivian is due to give birth to their first child next week, tasted victory in just one of the seven remaining races. Hamilton, in contrast, romped to victory at the other six, before clinching the title at the season decider in Abu Dhabi.
“It feels really good this weekend,” said Hamilton, who heads into the second half of the season with a 21-point lead over his team-mate.
“I saw Nico at the airport. We didn’t talk, we just said ‘hi’, and the first time we saw each other in the meeting room we were talking about his baby so it is much different. There is no hangover and there is no thought about the past.”
Hamilton remains the odds-on favourite to successfully defend his championship. But the Briton, who spent Formula 1’s four-week summer break in Colorado, Barbados and New York, admits he must avoid a repeat of his disastrous display in Hungary to claim a third title.
Hamilton started on pole, but ran off the track on the opening lap, tangled with Daniel Ricciardo and incurred a drive-through penalty. Miraculously, he extended his lead over Rosberg in the championship by virtue of the German’s collision, also with Ricciardo, in the closing stages of a chaotic race.
“For the first three days of the break I was thinking about the last race and then I didn’t think about it,” Hamilton added. “It wasn’t until halfway through last week that I started to think about it, get back on my emails, read up again on pit stops and all the things we learned from the last race and the preparation for this weekend.
“Naturally, you want to make sure those kind of weekends don’t happen again so of course I thought about it and I will be better prepared.”
Hamilton played second fiddle to a dominant Rosberg in practice yesterday, despite the German suffering a catastrophic tyre failure.
The 30-year-old topped the timesheets in both sessions but his day was dampened after his right-rear tyre exploded as he headed to Blanchimont at high speed during the second session. He avoided contact with the barriers and his Mercedes, minus one of its Pirelli tyres, ground safely to a halt.
It was a harrowing moment for Rosberg, who left his cockpit before returning to the garage, The cause of the failure remains unclear and it will be of high concern both to Mercedes and Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli.
Up until that point, Rosberg had dominated. His quickest lap of one minute 49.385 seconds was three tenths faster than Hamilton who, as in the morning session, had to settle for second behind his team-mate.
Red Bull were best of the rest with Daniel Ricciardo, who benefited from Rosberg’s collision with Hamilton to claim victory last year, in third. The Australian was 0.751sec down on Rosberg. His team-mate Daniil Kvyat ended the session in fourth.
Ferrari are celebrating their 900th grand prix this weekend and Kimi Raikkonen, who is to remain with the Italian team next season, was fifth fastest, finishing ahead of Sebastian Vettel in both sessions.
McLaren have become accustomed to propping up the rear this season and there will be little respite for the beleaguered team in Spa.
Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button have been hit with a combined 55-place grid penalty for tomorrow’s race following a raft of changes to their respective Honda power units.
It means they will start at the back of the pack and, to make matters worse, the new-spec Honda engine which they have brought with them to Spa has failed to have the desired effect at a circuit which relies heavily on power.
Button and Alonso ended the second session 17th and 18th respectively, quicker only than the Manor pair of Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi.