Lewis Hamilton may be the dark horse in F1 championship race

Vettel may be leading at halfway stage, but watch out for the Briton

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 August, 2013, 2:32am

Finally, the second half of the Formula One season is about to get underway. Like boxers who have been trading jabs and biding their time, now is the moment to start the serious knockout blows.

There are two main subjects of discussion as we look forward to the home stretch: can Sebastian Vettel be overhauled for the world championship, and just who will be sitting in which F1 seat next season?

First things first: the drivers' championship. Vettel may be 38 points ahead of his nearest rival, but he is by no means home and dry. Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso are nearest to him in the standings, but it is the man who lies fourth who may yet provide the stiffest challenge.

It's not all been plain sailing for Lewis Hamilton since he arrived at Mercedes at the start of the season. Up until the last grand prix, he had managed just three podiums, and they were third places.

And yet things seemed to click at the Hungaroring. Pole position was followed by a win, and a dominant one at that. All of a sudden Mercedes and Hamilton's prospects have been transformed.

The car has always been fast, but it has chewed its tyres. The team felt that despite a typically fast qualifying display, the Briton would go backwards in the race as it progressed. That never happened, and Hamilton took the chequered flag for a win he described as one of "the most important of my career".

It might also be that Hamilton is in a better place mentally to challenge for a second world title. It could seem an odd thing to say, given that he's not long split up with his pop star girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, prompting him to concede that: "My mind has been in a lot of different places ... when I've not been on my laptop with my engineers or in the car, my mind has just been in the clouds."

However, bear in mind the comments he had made about the long distance relationship he had with the singer: "Even if it's just for a day I'll fly all the way over to Los Angeles. You land there, you have a great dinner and you leave the next day."

Not the best preparation really for racing. With fewer distractions and a car with tyres that might last the distance and in which he's feeling increasingly comfortable, Hamilton could just be the man to come up on the rails and steal the championship from Vettel. It also helps that Hamilton's favourite tracks, including Spa, are still to come.

The German hasn't had a smooth ride recently at Red Bull, either. Although he scored podiums in the last two races, a rare retirement at Silverstone won't have settled the nerves, and watching teammate Mark Webber have KERS and gearbox problems in Hungary only adds to the worries.

Of course, having Webber as a teammate won't help either as the two of them are still at war, and you can't see the Australian bending over backwards to help Vettel. News that Red Bull are likely to hire Daniel Ricciardo next year as his teammate will bring clarity, but increase the feeling of flux at the team.

Of course, the horse-trading is reaching fever pitch and expect rumours to abound in the Spa paddock. With Raikkonen locked out of a move to Red Bull, talk is of him going to Ferrari. It will be interesting to see how Alonso reacts given the way he handles strong teammates.

Mind you, he might not have much say in the matter. He seems to be in the dog house with Ferrari at the moment after criticising the car. The company's president, Luca Montezemolo, phoned the Spaniard to wish him happy birthday and "tweak his ear".

He told him "all the great champions who have driven for Ferrari have always been asked to put the interests of the team above their own".

Suitably chastised he, and the rest of us, will focus on Sunday in Spa. Buckle up, it will be a great race and a fantastic second half of the season.