VALENCIA, Spain, June 23, 2011 (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton believes he has a chance of beating Sebastian Vettel to pole position for this weekend's European Grand Prix - and tying up a contract to stay with McLaren by the end of the year.
The 26-year-old Briton, who crashed into his team-mate and compatriot Jenson Button and out of the Canadian Grand Prix two weeks ago, said on Thursday that he remains totally focused on success with McLaren.
He added this after sweeping away suggestions that he was heading towards a move to rivals Red Bull following a meeting with the Red Bull team chief Christian Horner in Montreal.He said: "I think the team are massively committed to me, as I am to them.
I've been with them since I was 13, and I've known them for a long, long time. "Of course, there are always positives and strengths you can have to help you in negotiations with your team, but that wasn't the aim (of seeing Red Bull)."
He explained that he had so far only "exchanged messages" with McLaren team chief Martin Whitmarsh regarding the fall-out from the Montreal revelation.
He said he believes that Whitmarsh believes he is aware of his commitment to McLaren. "I think he knows I'm flat out focused on winning with this team," said Hamilton.
"I showed that after the last race when I had a pretty poor weekend, yet the team won. I tried to be as much of a team player as I always have been - we win and we lose together.
"That weekend we won, and it was the most important thing. The guys are pushing massively to help us win more races.
"The rules are changing and we won the last race. We are the only team to have won a race other than Red Bull and we are the only other team to compete with the Red Bull. What more can you ask for?"
Asked if he believed that the new rule changes - banning any changes to the engine mapping between qualifying and the race - would favour him and allow him to overhaul Vettel, Hamilton said: "It is definitely possible."
"I think if you look at the previous races, every time in Q3 it looks like they have done something with their engine mode which has given them the slight upper hand.
"And in the last race, while other people brought a new DRS, Ferrari had a new mode in Q3 which helped them significantly.
"We have had the same mode for a while now and everyone will probably not be using their qualifying modes because their engines would not last.
"They will use their race mode - and we generally have good race pace so I am hoping that it enables us to be a bit closer in qualifying. Fingers crossed it works for this race."
Hamilton lies 76 points behind Vettel in the title race after two poor results in Monaco and Montreal, events he had hoped to win.
"With the points, though, people can have bad weekends and you can bounce back," he added.
"It definitely feels like it could be the hardest championship from here to the end of the season. There is a long way to go, but I will not be giving up any time soon."
Talking about negotiations for a new contract - his current one has 18 months to run - Hamilton said: "Definitely, hopefully, by the end of the year I'll have something in place and I can continue on, which is important to be able to do.
"Probably by the end of this year it's important to have something put in place."
Gordon Howard (AFP)