June 18, 2015

SPIELBERG, Austria (AP) Lewis Hamilton would love to win the Austrian Grand Prix for real this time.

The race was always one of his favorites when he grew up playing video games, but when he drove on the Red Bull Ring circuit for the first time last year he had some trouble.

The British driver qualified in ninth place before roaring back through the field to finish a commendable second behind Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

Hamilton, who leads Rosberg by 17 points after seven races, intends to go one better this weekend and seal a fifth win of the season.

''It's a big challenge for me and something I'm excited about. I grew up playing computer games with this track and I never got to really drive it - it was one of my favorite ones on the computer game,'' Hamilton said on Thursday. ''I watched it in the days of Michael (Schumacher) and Rubens Barrichello here, even ones further back than that.''

The eye-catching track in Spielberg is located in Austria's Styria region and returned to the F1 calendar last year after an 11-year gap. Surrounded by high hills and dense forests, it is a nature lover's paradise, far removed from the bustle of the Canadian GP, where Hamilton won two weeks ago to extend his lead over a resurgent Rosberg.

''What I didn't know is how beautiful this place was. I didn't know how stunning it is with the mountains and everything near. Last year I had a really good time here,'' Hamilton said. ''I had my two dogs with me and where I stayed there was a nice park area where I would just go and walk them. It was just beautiful to be in the countryside away from the city. No noise. Last race, it was just too noisy outside, so many fans, it was just busy loud, so much traffic and cars.''

Beating Rosberg in Montreal was particularly important for Hamilton, who has won 37 career races.

Rosberg was gaining momentum and the German driver's confidence was clearly boosted after back-to-back wins at the Spanish GP and in Monaco, where Hamilton looked certain to win until a safety car came out late and he was ordered in for a tire change.

The move backfired, with Hamilton dropping from first to finish third. It angered Hamilton and caused considerable embarrassment to Mercedes, which apologized to the British driver.

''It was just important for me personally, not concerning Nico, just to get back after a really difficult race and a difficult personal experience in Monaco,'' Hamilton said. ''That was the most important thing and the most testing thing because it was not an easy race to come from, and it could have easily gone really badly in the following race. To bounce back and drive really well was really positive.''

There seems to be less friction these days between the Mercedes drivers. Their much-publicized fall outs last year, with some heated exchanges at the Monaco GP and in Belgium, tested a friendship formed in their teenage days driving go-karts against each other.

Although they ''don't talk a huge amount'' during races, Hamilton says that's more to do with media commitments.

''When we get to the race we arrive on the Thursday, we don't have any time,'' Hamilton said. ''He's doing his interviews, I'm doing mine.''

But away from the track, things seem to be going more smoothly.

''The time we've spoken is when I went to this apartment and sat there with him and his wife, and sat there and just talked, and played with his dog, and talked about ... you know, he's got a kid coming,'' Hamilton said. ''So when we have a private talk it's when we're at home, or by the pool. He'll be training by the pool and I'll be at the gym and I'll go and say `hi' to him or vice versa.''

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