Hamilton hoping to put title contenders further adrift in Hungary

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- The four-way battle for the Formula One World Championship continues at this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton will attempt to add to his points lead and his championship momentum by scoring his third straight win and fifth overall of the season in his Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.

Meanwhile, over at Ferrari, there is no panic from Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa even though the team has not performed at its optimum recently.

As for BMW Sauber and Robert Kubica, while they admit the performance gap to Ferrari and McLaren is growing, they plan to continue to chip away at the top two teams.

After 10 of 18 races, the top four in the points are: Hamilton 58, Massa 54, Raikkonen 51 and Kubica 48.

"I would like to continue with the momentum I have," Hamilton said. "The aim is to score points."

In recent races Hamilton has found the sweet spot in the McLaren, and his results are proving that.

"For sure in the last couple races the car has been the best it has ever been," he explained. "It should be that way because we have been working very hard to develop it.

"I have spent a lot more time with my engineer trying to understand, and also analyzing what has gone wrong on race weekends. What we have done when we go to testing is really extract the most from the test. We have been able to make good steps forward."

By getting the setup nearly perfect even before he gets to the racetrack, Hamilton has been able to concentrate on his driving.

Hamilton's teammate Heikki Kovalainen is sixth in the standings with 28 points. In keeping with its long-standing policy, McLaren is giving both drivers equal treatment and not asking Heikki to fly wingman for Lewis.

"I don't think Lewis needs any help!" Kovalainen said. "I have the same car and opportunities [as him]. I am trying to do the maximum for myself."

Raikkonen has not won since Round 4, in Spain, back in May.

"It's no secret that we're not satisfied by how the last five races went," Raikkonen said. "I was particularly disappointed after the series Montreal/Magny-Cours/Silverstone. In each one of these races I had the possibility to win, but because of one thing or another thing didn't go the right way I lost."

But "The Iceman" remains as unflustered as ever.

"I never let myself be influenced by tension and I won't start now," Raikkonen said. "I've just to keep my focus and continue to give as much as possible, race after race. That's what I've done every time I was in trouble."

Raikkonen says there is plenty of time to turn things around.

"It's still early to make any forecasts for the championship, considering that the first three drivers are only seven points apart the positions can change in a single race. Excluding Hockenheim [Germany] I was always in a position to win, and I hope success will come soon."

Massa, a three-time winner this year, says he's confident that Ferrari can beat McLaren.

"There are some races where certain elements of their car make them faster and some races where elements of our car make us faster," he said.

Ferrari's last victory in Hungary was with Michael Schumacher in 2004. Raikkonen won the race in 2005 driving for McLaren. Hamilton won last year.

Hamilton is still very wary of Ferrari.

"For sure they still have a fantastic car and two very quick drivers," he said. "They are a great team, and I have no doubts that they will be fighting very hard with us this weekend. Every time you come to a race you are looking out for them, and all of your rivals. BMW and Renault and Red Bull are quick."

Kubica made his F1 debut in the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix. He finished eighth but was later disqualified because his car was underweight. As Hungary is not far from his native Poland, Kubica will have lots of support this weekend. Over 50,000 Polish fans are expected to attend the race.

Until there is no mathematical chance to win [the championship] you have to give the maximum. Everything can change quickly.
After the first race Hamilton had 10 points and I had zero, and after seven races I was leading the championship.

-- Robert Kubica

"It's true that the gap to Ferrari and McLaren is bigger than for example in the early part of the season," said Kubica, who scored his maiden F1 victory in Canada earlier this year.

"We won in Canada, but there we were also six-tenths slower than pole in qualifying," added Kubica, who led the points chase after that race. "The problem now is that it's not only Ferrari and McLaren who are quicker, but sometimes Toyota and Renault get in front of us which complicates our life. The gap is pretty big, but it is still possible to fight with one of the Ferraris or one of the McLarens. But this is racing and I think we have to try to improve."

Kubica says his 10-point gap to championship leader Hamilton does not mean that it's all over.

"Until there is no mathematical chance to win [the championship] you have to give the maximum," he said. "Everything can change quickly.
After the first race Hamilton had 10 points and I had zero, and after seven races I was leading the championship."

While four drivers are the main contenders for the title, fifth-place Nick Heidfeld, with 41 points, isn't ruling himself out of the chase. Having finally sorted out his qualifying setup with the BMW Sauber engineers, Heidfeld is on a roll. He scored more points than any driver except Hamilton in the past two races. And Heidfeld is only seven points adrift of his teammate Kubica.

"It has changed a lot for me over the last couple of races," Heidfeld said. "Since Canada, where I could have won, it has been going up. I have had two second-places in four races, so I am really happy to finally have things turned around."

So does he really have a shot at winning the championship this year?

"It is very unrealistic," Heidfeld admitted, "but it doesn't mean that in my mind I say it's a zero percent chance. You take it as it comes and try to give it your best. At the moment I am 17 points behind the leader who at the moment has a better car, so it is unlikely but not impossible."

Missing from the championship battle is Fernando Alonso, who was a top contender last season. It was here in Hungary one year ago that a squabble between McLaren teammates Alonso and Hamilton led to a string of events that eventually resulted in McLaren being fined $100 million for illegally obtaining confidential Ferrari data.

And it led to Alonso splitting with McLaren after just one year of a three-year contract.

Now back with Renault, with which he won the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix, Alonso is ninth in the current standings with no podium finishes and just 13 points.

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.