Lewis Hamilton believes the F1 field is tightening up after two particularly close Friday practice sessions at the Belgian Grand Prix.
It was not an opening day of Mercedes domination at Spa-Francorchamps.
True, Valtteri Bottas – on his 31st birthday – and Hamilton were P1 and P2 respectively in FP1. But on a comparatively long circuit, Max Verstappen’s Red Bull was only 0.081sec off the pace and both Racing Points were also within 0.375sec.
Then in FP2, the Mercs were down in P3 and P6 – Hamilton having the edge on his team-mate this time – as Verstappen went quickest ahead of surprise package Daniel Ricciardo, while Alex Albon made it a 1-4 for Red Bull.
Hamilton was unsure of the reason why so many cars were challenging at the top of the order but thinks it shows rival teams have really got their act together now the season is in full swing.
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) August 28, 2020
“It’s very close out there,” said the six-time World Champion, who is 37 points clear of Verstappen at the top of the standings as he aims to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven titles.
“I think the Red Bulls are just a little bit quicker at the moment and I even think Racing Point are right with us and Daniel Ricciardo in the Renault was very close.
“That makes it exciting and we’ve got some work to do for sure to dial in the car a bit more. But it doesn’t feel bad at all.
“It’s been generally a good day. I love driving around this track, it’s incredible. It drizzled a bit for F3 or F2 but fortunately for us it was dry, so that gave us plenty of time to understand the car and get plenty of running in.
“From race to race the car is different each way we go – some places we are ahead, some places we are behind.
“As I anticipated coming into this weekend, we are into the seventh race and the field will get closer and closer as the whole of Formula 1 develops and it’s already showing that this weekend.
“We seem to be so close with everyone and we’ve got to understand why, whether they (the opposition) have taken a step forward or we’ve taken a step back, or it’s just the track layout, the downforce level, who knows.
“We’ll work on that but I’m excited for an interesting race, that’s for sure.”
Bottas received an early birthday present in the form of P1 in FP1 and, like Hamilton, will have his sights set on pole position for Sunday’s race.
“It’s been a nice birthday,” said the Finn. “I can definitely think of worse things to do on your birthday and especially the first session was good, the second a bit more tricky but nothing major. I just didn’t get the lap quite right.”