Briton Lewis Hamilton believes he and the McLaren team will mount a serious title bid in the second half of this season, starting with the upcoming Hungarian Grand Prix.
The 2008 drivers' champion, who was forced to retire from last Sunday's German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, said he can challenge for victory this weekend at Budapest's Hungaroring circuit based on the McLaren team's overall performance and speed last weekend.
Hamilton's teammate Jenson Button took second at Hockenheim behind the triumphant Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, who leads the title race. Hamilton was forced out of the race with a gearbox problem after earlier snags including a puncture collected on lap two, but said the weekend left him optimistic.
“There's every good reason to feel confident - our upgrade package seems to have delivered the pace we anticipated,” he said.
“Things haven't always gone our way in the first half of this year, but I certainly feel like we're experiencing something of a turning point for the whole team now.
“We've really stepped up and delivered the pace we needed, our strategy has been spot-on and our pit stops, despite a troubled start at the beginning of the year, are now consistently the fastest in the pit lane.”
McLaren produced a near-miraculous 2.31-second stationary time for their best stop, timed at 2.4s by the sport's ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA).
The team believe that after problems earlier in the year they are now set to enjoy a spell of sustained excellence on the track and in the pit lane.
“We still have issues, the same as any team in the pit lane, so we will still have stops where things happen, but the guys have a really good margin now,” said sporting director Sam Michael.
“If they do a 3.1-second stop, it feels incredibly slow and that's pretty much the stop time that everybody else is doing. So they have got the margin to lose seven or eight tenths and, while not the quickest, still be very competitive.”
That vital improvement in a key area has boosted optimism in the team that they can catch their rivals, and for Hamilton give him a chance to catch the supremely confident Alonso in the title race.
Hamilton is now fifth in the championship, 62 points behind Spaniard Alonso, after an opening half to the season marked by strong pace and some good results mixed with lapses in pace and pit-lane blunders. Despite a miserable 100th Grand Prix at Hockenheim, those problems seem to be behind him, if he is to be believed.
Hamilton made no reference to the potential blow to Red Bull that may come this weekend if they are forced to adhere to the FIA's plans to clarify the rules on engine mapping systems. It is understood that these plans will effectively force Red Bull to make changes - and could spark a fresh row over the technical rules.
McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale said: “I hope that we don't get into lots of re-writing of exhaust regulations like we did last year because that provided a reasonable amount of upset and difficulty.
“In terms of us as teams and the sport, consistency of regulations is good. I think we just need to put a lot more effort into enforcing the regulation, rather than continually rewriting.”
The team plan further car upgrades this weekend after bouncing back into contention last Sunday in Germany.
“Without question, we made a big step at Hockenheim,” said sporting director Michael. “I'm sure that we can be really competitive in Hungary.” -Sapa-AFP