Lewis Hamilton is convinced Robert Kubica is in the title hunt for the long haul this season.
Kubica grabbed the first win of his Formula One career in Sunday’s dramatic Canadian Grand Prix after a significant helping hand from Hamilton.
The 23-year-old failed to spot Kubica and Kimi Raikkonen had both stopped for a red light at the end of the pit lane in Montreal.
Despite travelling at only 30mph, Hamilton ended up crashing into the back of Raikkonen’s Ferrari, sending them into retirement.
Kubica took full advantage of the gaffe to take the chequered flag in his BMW Sauber, and now has a four-point lead in the title race over Hamilton and Massa.
Since retiring in the opening race of the season in Australia, the Pole has since been the most consistent driver on the grid.
Hamilton believes Kubica is now a real threat, conceding: “I think he’s always been a title contender from race one when he qualified second on the grid.
“I’ve always known he’s got great talent and he would be strong as soon as BMW pulled their socks up – and they have done.
“They’ve done a great job, they’ve been very consistent and it is three teams at the front really battling it out.
“I think he’s going to be pushing us right to the end, although it’s not particularly worrying.
“I still feel we can come out on top, but it’s going to be a real challenge.”
Hamilton first faces an uphill struggle at the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours in 10 days’ time due to a 10-place grid penalty imposed by stewards for his moment of Montreal madness.
Yet, Hamilton is convinced he can defy the odds and take what would be an astonishing victory, adding: “It’s going to be tough, and we know we are already on the back foot.
“But knowing the pace and momentum we had in Canada, it just shows anything can happen.
“I feel quite confident we can still win there – that’s my job. I have to have that belief in myself and the team.”
Raikkonen feels Hamilton fully deserved his punishment, disputing his take on events that he saw the red light too late.
“I can’t believe somebody can hit you when you are standing in front of a red light and side by side with another car,” sniped Raikkonen.
“I can’t believe he did not see the red light, and more than that, the two stationary cars. He knows there was a red light. Accidents happen, but not with two cars that have stopped.
“He deserves his penalty. He loses 10 places for the next race in France, and at least it is not going to make things any easier for him.”
Hamilton was speaking at the launch of the ’Go Motorsport’ scheme at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking.
The campaign, aided by a website www.gomotorsport.net, is designed to inspire the general public into becoming involved in motor racing at any level, either as a competitor, official, trackside marshal or spectator.