Lewis Hamilton warns Mercedes must improve to beat Ferrari for F1 title

 British driver closes gap on Vettel to seven points in championship
 Honda hint Fernando Alonso deliberately pulled out of Belgian GP
Lewis Hamilton holds off Sebastian Vettel at Spa.
 Lewis Hamilton holds off the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel at Spa to win the Belgian Grand Prix for Mercedes. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton has said he and his Mercedes team will have to put in the maximum effort in improving and developing their car if they are to take the Formula One world championship. The British driver won the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday but warned that the Ferrari of his championship rival Sebastian Vettel, who leads the title race by seven points, will be hard to beat in the remaining eight races.

Hamilton won from pole in Spa, but on a track characterised by high speed, fast corners and low downforce the Mercedes was expected to be dominant as it had been at the similar Silverstone. But Vettel, who started from second on the grid, was able to stay right with Hamilton throughout the race and on two occasions – both on the Kemmel Straight going into Les Combes – was able to mount a challenge to pass Hamilton. The gap between the two drivers was rarely more than 1.5 seconds for almost all of the 44 laps.

Mercedes have enjoyed complete dominance of F1 for the previous three years but this season under the new regulations Ferrari have proved highly competitive. For the first half of the year their advantage appeared to be on the high-downforce, slow-cornering circuits such as Monaco and Budapest but their performance in Spa suggests they have begun to unlock pace in their car on the fast-flowing tracks as well. Hamilton acknowledged the threat they posed.

“If the cars were reversed I don’t think I would have been able to hold as close as Vettel did,” the Englishman said. “If anyone is out there thinking we have the best car this year then they need to think again, because it’s not the case.”

The win, he said, had taken everything out of him and he added: “I think Ferrari were ultimately quicker. I was just able to keep them at bay.”

The 32-year-old is attempting to secure his fourth F1 world championship and has been in a nip-and-tuck struggle with Vettel all season. Thus far no driver has secured back-to-back victories in 12 races and Hamilton has had a share of the lead only once, after the second round in China. Since this is the first year under new regulations in-season development was always going to be key and with the gap between the two teams so slender it is now of paramount importance for the remaining races.

“I hope we have more to come and we need more to come in order to win this thing,” Hamilton said. “It’s going to take everything from every single one of us to finish these next eight races and come out on top. That’s how a championship should be so I’m really looking forward to that challenge.

“Ferrari have had the most consistent season and while we’ve had a solid and well put together weekend, it was only just enough to stay ahead.”

The next round at Monza, another power circuit, should favour Mercedes who brought an upgraded engine to Spa, but Hamilton, who now has five wins this season, is expecting Ferrari to be strong at their home grand prix.

“I think we have the upper hand power wise but we’ve got to keep improving,” he said. “The pressure is on. The next race, package wise, should be similar to this weekend but when we get to Singapore that’s really when the test is going to be shown where Ferrari should be really fast as they were in Hungary, so we will see.”

Vettel, who has been confident in the Ferrari since pre-season testing, especially in its cornering and has four wins also believed his team were on top in race pace although they were still being out‑qualified by Mercedes. “I think overall we have the better car but that’s for everyone to judge,” he said. “There are circuits where we might have an advantage and some where they might have an advantage but if we can change the trend in qualifying where life for them is a little bit too easy then it’s a different Sunday. But if that’s easy to change we would do it.

“The level is very high, we’re fighting the best team in Formula One. They have won the championship the last three years fighting more or less on their own so I think we’ve done a very good job to be where we are. That’s not enough, we want to be in front and there’s a long way to go.”

His team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who finished fourth after receiving a stop-go penalty for not lifting-off under waved yellow flags, also noted that Spa had proved the team was making substantial progress. “People expected that it would easily be a Mercedes circuit, but it wasn’t, so we’re doing the right things,” he said.

Honda hint Fernando Alonso deliberately retired from Belgian Grand Prix

Fernando Alonso’s troubled relationship with Honda is facing fresh scrutiny after McLaren’s Japanese engine partner hinted he may have retired from the Belgian Grand Prix on purpose.

Alonso, the 36-year-old two-time champion who is out of contract with McLaren at the end of the season, cut an increasingly frustrated figure throughout Sunday’s race.

The Spaniard was as high as seventh following an impressive opening lap, but McLaren’s under-powered Honda engine left him exposed, and he soon dropped out of the points.

Alonso described the situation as “embarrassing” over the team radio before he pulled out of the race altogether on lap 27, citing an apparent engine problem. Alonso’s retirement, his seventh of a miserable year, came only moments after he had been informed that rain was not forecast for the remainder of the race, and thus ruling out the likelihood of scoring any points.

And to add further intrigue and suspicion, Honda then revealed that there was not an obvious fault with Alonso’s engine.

“After starting brilliantly, Fernando then had a tough race overall,” Honda boss Yusuke Hasegawa said. “He radioed in with what he thought was a problem with the car, and although there was nothing showing in the data, we decided to stop the car as a precaution.”