By JEROME PUGMIRE
AP Sports Writer
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – Despite regaining the Formula One lead, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton maintains Ferrari has the upper hand.
The defending champion got his nose back in front of Sebastian Vettel at the German Grand Prix last weekend, but only with a stroke of good fortune after his main rival crashed leading the race .
“Ferrari have really taken a step up, particularly in their qualifying performance. We are under no illusion we have to battle hard against them,” Hamilton told reporters Thursday at the Hungarian GP. “They slightly have the upper hand at the moment. We're racing a team that is faster than us this year. Last year was more balanced, this year is swinging more in their direction. We're having to over-deliver at weekends.”
Hamilton was undoubtedly quickest last year, breaking F1 great Michael Schumacher's record for pole positions along the way, but the British driver – who describes himself as a “perfectionist” – thinks he is not doing enough in qualifying. Nor, he said, is he starting races well enough.
“There are parts of my performance this year which aren't perfect,” Hamilton said. “Last year I was great in qualifying, this year it's an area I need to work on. (My) starts were more consistent last year.”
Considering the tight Hungaroring circuit is among the toughest for overtaking – Monaco is the hardest – Hamilton feels under extra pressure to get pole for Sunday's race. Vettel won here last year from pole, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in a Ferrari 1-2.
“I need to get on the front row. I need P1,” Hamilton said. “Position is mostly everything here.”
Although Ferrari paid the price for Vettel's error at Hockenheim, slipping behind in both the drivers' and constructors' championships, this does not change the fact Mercedes has made uncustomary errors.
Only three races ago, at the Austrian GP, both cars retired. There have also been strategy and communications mistakes. In Germany, Hamilton qualified 14th after his car sustained a hydraulic failure.
“We haven't performed 100 percent every weekend,” Hamilton said. “Our reliability has been exceptional in the past; it's dipped a little lower than what perhaps we would hope.”
Still, Hamilton seems to cope with pressure better than Vettel – who has made key mistakes this year and last.
“I really position myself, mentally and physically, so I'm the last to crack,” Hamilton said, defiantly.
He made the most of tough conditions at Hockenheim to underline his reputation as one of F1's all-time greats in the rain, along with Schumacher, Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna.
Hamilton appeared to like the challenge when the rain is thrashing down, the advantages drivers have are greatly reduced and instinct takes over.
“Our cars today, with the technology and the data, all that kind of stuff … in the dry it seems a little bit easier for drivers to get close to each other,” he said. “But when it comes to those conditions, when it's really about feel, that's when it's magnified the most and that's when I feel the driver's able to make the biggest difference.”
That's why Hamilton felt aggrieved by television pundits – including former F1 champion Damon Hill and Martin Brundle – both of whom he felt were too critical.
When Hamilton watched a re-run of the German GP, he posted an angry Instagram post saying: “I find it amusing listening to the ex-drivers commentating, not a single one of them could find a good thing to say.”
Hamilton removed the post, but stands firmly by his comments.
“There were certain things that weren't perceived (correctly),” Hamilton said. “Or certain things that were missed.”
One of those was the fact he was driving an incredible three seconds faster per lap than anyone in driving rain.
“It wasn't being explained the difference I was making, the different lines that I would choose,” Hamilton said. “(Given) that we had (former) racing drivers commentating, I would have thought they'd pick those things out and they didn't. When I watch the race, I can look at how Sebastian (Vettel) entered the corner and positioned the car (before crashing) … that also wasn't pointed out.”
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