Hamilton staying upbeat despite poor practice performance

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Lewis Hamilton is ready to defy the odds by defending his Formula One world championship despite nearing 200 days without a victory.

The 33-year-old British driver is winless from the opening three rounds, and without a victory in his last six appearances dating back to October’s United States Grand Prix.

Hamilton has been off the pace in recent races and heads into Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix nine points adrift of championship leader Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton was only fifth here in practice on Friday and again behind his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who has out-qualified him at the last two rounds.

It has been almost three decades since Frenchman Alain Prost failed to win any of the first four races before beating Ayrton Senna to the 1989 championship. Prost was the last driver to achieve such a feat.

Hamilton’s task has been made all the harder this year by Ferrari’s continued threat, while Red Bull have also emerged as serious contenders with Daniel Ricciardo winning so impressively in China a fortnight ago and fastest in practice on Friday.

“I don’t think about statistics and I am always one for wanting to defy the odds,” Hamilton said. “If we don’t win this weekend I plan on changing that statistic.

“Do I feel the need for the win? I am enjoying the battle and the whole experience, and that is what motorsport is all about. Finishing first is obviously a great feeling, but it always feels better when you have come from further back.

“When it feels like you have had a harder slog to get that victory, the win always feels better so when it does arrive, it is going to be great.”

For the first time in the hybrid era, Hamilton’s Mercedes team are no longer the sport’s dominant force. Indeed their failure to win last time out in China marked the first time since 2013 that one of their cars has failed to take the chequered flag in three consecutive outings.

The Baku Street Circuit has not been kind to Hamilton since its debut on the calendar in 2016 either. He finished only fifth in that first race before a loose headrest cost him victory a year ago.

Last year’s grand prix was also noteworthy for Hamilton’s collision with Vettel in which the Ferrari driver deliberately rammed into his Mercedes rival, believing he had brake-tested him during a safety car period.

Vettel was penalised during the race, and subsequently hauled in front of the FIA, the sport’s governing body, where he escaped with a slap on the wrists.

“It is good to see fire in the people you compete with and it is also good to see that they are not perfect,” said Hamilton as he reflected on the flashpoint.

“We all make mistakes, but it is how people handle those mistakes and how they progress that matters.

“Sebastian has continued to progress as a champion in how he presents himself, how he speaks, and how he continues to grow in the words that he uses.

“The respect between us has grown by a considerable amount since, and I am sure it will continue.”

Ricciardo, who won here last year, finished clear of Kimi Raikkonen with Max Verstappen third in practice. Vettel was only 11th after he failed to get a decent lap together.

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