BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The bad news for Sebastian Vettel is that Lewis Hamilton usually gets stronger after Formula One’s summer break.
Hamilton leads second-placed Vettel by 24 points after winning the past two races, and the German driver needs little reminding his British rival turned around a 14-point deficit at the same stage last year to take the title by 46.
“The second half is always exciting, it’s always intense. It gets a bit better on our side,” said Hamilton, who won Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix from pole position.
“We need to apply more pressure in the second half. This is where we need to turn up the heat.”
Two weeks ago, he and his Mercedes team were trailing Vettel and Ferrari in the drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
Ferrari was lapping up the compliments about having the quickest car on the circuit and Vettel seemed in the ascendancy after taking a superb pole in Germany.
With Hamilton 14th on the grid, because of a hydraulic failure , questions were being asked about the car’s reliability.
But thanks to his exquisite driving, and mistakes by Vettel and his team, the situation has turned back in favor of Mercedes.
For all of Ferrari’s new-found speed – estimated at times to be nearly 0.5 seconds quicker than Mercedes on some sectors of the track – Vettel remains prone to lapses in concentration and his team makes sloppy errors.
On Sunday, Ferrari botched the pit stops of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen after struggling to fit a tire quickly enough.
Raikkonen also had to drive the whole race – nearly 1 hour, 40 minutes in sweltering heat – without fluids after his team failed to properly attach his drinking bottle.
Earlier in the season, a mechanic’s leg was broken by the Finnish driver’s car following an unsafe pit release at the Bahrain GP.
In Hungary, Ferrari looked strong in practice only to wilt when rain fell in qualifying . This essentially handed Mercedes a 1-2 on the starting grid, with Valtteri Bottas alongside Hamilton.
In the previous race, rain again played havoc at Hockenheim as a nervy Vettel crashed near the end of the German GP. He had been ahead by almost 10 seconds and under no pressure.
Vettel, however, is convinced he can win the title.
“The pendulum seems to swing once this side, once that side,” he said after finishing second on Sunday. “Consistency is the key. I didn’t do myself a favor (in Germany) but it is part of racing.”
Raikkonen’s form is encouraging. While the 38-year-old driver has not won since the opening day of the 2013 season – when driving for Lotus – his third place in Hungary was a fifth consecutive podium finish, and eighth in 12 races.
Overall, he is 14 points ahead of fourth-place Bottas. Ten points separate Mercedes and Ferrari, and Raikkonen’s consistency could prove vital in helping his team land its first constructors’ title since 2008.
Vettel hopes points will flow freely, once glitches are ironed out.
“Last year we lost the championship because our car wasn’t quick enough in the final part of the season,” he said. “This year has shown our car is more efficient, our car is stronger and still has a lot of potential to unleash. So I’m quite confident with what’s in the pipeline.”