HAMILTON PLAYS DOWN HOPES OF CRUCIAL TITLE FIGHTBACK

By Michael Lamonato

Lewis Hamilton is keeping his expectations low for his home British Grand Prix despite upgrades to his Mercedes.

Silverstone has historically favoured his Mercedes team, with seven wins from the last nine races here, but the scale of Max Verstappen’s domination in the previous two rounds — taking Red Bull Racing’s victory streak to five — have clearly shaken Hamilton’s hopes.

“Their performance has gone a little bit out of reach,” he said. “But we are working as hard as we can to close back up.

“There’s a lot of change on the car — it’s not a massive update in terms of the gap that we’ve seen in the races, but it definitely helps us in terms of closing that gap quickly.

“A lot of work has gone on over the past couple of weeks. I’m hoping that coming back to a circuit that suits us a little bit better and hopefully bodes well for a closer battle.”

But maximising those updates will be more difficult this weekend, with practice time slashed by two thirds. Rather than three hours of free running, teams will have just 60 minutes before their set-ups are frozen for qualifying on Friday in a format change to accommodate a sprint race on Saturday afternoon.

“You are kind of stuck with it for the weekend,” Valtteri Bottas said. “I think both me and Lewis have been in the simulator earlier this week trying different approaches. I think now we have a pretty good understanding in theory of how we should start the weekend in terms of set-up.”

But correlating simulator work with on-track results isn’t always straightforward, so it’ll be a high-pressure hour as Mercedes try to get the car into pole and race-winning contention.

The man Hamilton must beat, Max Verstappen, the 32-point title leader, was calm in anticipation of what’s shaping up as a key test of the campaign.

“It’s one of my favourite tracks,” he said. “And then of course having a full house — It’s going to be an amazing feeling … because we really missed that last year when we came here.

“We know that Mercedes of course is bringing upgrades, so we have to wait and see.

“Of course I expect us to be competitive, but difficult to say where we’ll end up. I’m looking forward to it.”

At such a classic track, the latest chapter of this campaign will be fascinating viewing.

MY RACE TIPS

Red Bull Racing’s single-lap form is too strong to ignore. I’m tipping Max Verstappen for qualifying on Friday and to win pole in sprint qualifying on Saturday. But, buoyed by his home fans, I think — and hope for the sake of the title! — Lewis Hamilton will win in close victory on Sunday ahead of Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas.