SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (Reuters) - Triple world champion Lewis Hamilton says he is hungrier than ever, and out for ‘blood’, as the Mercedes driver prepares for his 200th race in Formula One this weekend.
The 32-year-old Briton is 14 points behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel with nine races remaining and has yet to take an outright lead in the championship against a formidable opponent.
But he expects to remedy that, starting in Belgium on Sunday.
“One thing for sure in this second part of the season... is that I‘m here for blood. I‘m here to win and I‘m here to stay,” he said.
“It’s strange. When you’re racing for so long, it’s my 200th race, you would think that maybe your passion or your desire to win would fade. But it’s stronger than ever. And that’s exciting for me.”
The most successful current racer, in terms of wins if not titles, Hamilton can also equal seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 68 pole positions at Spa on Saturday.
That would be a symbolic milestone to reach, with Spa also marking the 25th anniversary of Schumacher’s first grand prix win, but Hamilton’s thoughts were focussed on the task at hand.
Reinvigorated by his August break, and smitten by his first visit to Cuba, Hamilton said he was ready for anything and determined to raise his game.
“I want the next nine (races) to all be 10s. I want you guys to be standing there with those boards: 10, 10, 10,” he said.
“I‘m going to be ahead of him (Vettel) in every single race from now on, that’s my goal. No games. I‘m here to win. I want it just as much if not more than anyone else this year.”
Hamilton made his debut with McLaren in 2007, missing the title by a single point but winning in 2008 - again by one point after making a crucial overtake on the last corner of the last lap in Brazil.
His move to Mercedes in 2013 brought two more championships - in 2014 and 2015 - but he missed out last year to now-retired German team mate Nico Rosberg.
He has won 57 of his 199 races, four this year, and could soon become the first Briton to win four titles - the same number Vettel has.
Hamilton said he still felt young at heart, despite the ‘crazy’ 200 race milestone, and also privileged and grateful.
Not that he could remember all of his races, or even select a favourite.
“My first grand prix was such a huge highlight. My first grand prix win, Silverstone grand prix win, Monaco grand prix win. Winning the title in Brazil was a highlight. It wasn’t actually a great experience but it was still a highlight in my career,” he said.
”I think a favourite would probably be a wet race... when you’ve come from 10th or fourth and you outsmart the guys ahead of you and exploit the car as no-one thought you could.
“When you come back and your engineers didn’t expect to see the speed you had, that’s an amazing feeling.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Christian Radnedge