Lewis Hamilton believes Mercedes have navigated through their rough patch earlier this season and returned to the form of previous campaigns, however he isn't expecting the championship fight to get any easier in the second half.
The Briton currently sits eight points up on Max Verstappen in the Drivers' Championship after 11 races, with the F1 campaign set to resume this weekend in Belgium.
When asked by RacingNews365.com whether he's now more wary of the threat posed by Verstappen, Hamilton acknowledged Mercedes have been challenged more than previous years, though they knew that would be the case at the beginning of the year.
"I don't feel like I'm more wary than I was at the beginning of the year, we knew how quick they would be at the beginning," Hamilton responded. "We've obviously seen the speed and the competitiveness of them in the past.
"Of course, as we got through the season they have gotten stronger and stronger. It's been harder for us, as we've gone on we've had a bit of a difficult patch, but we've got back to where we are in terms of operating and how we have in the past.
"It's going to be close, it's gonna be tough in the second half of the season. The first half was definitely one of the toughest and I expect it's going to be pretty much the same in the second half, if not more difficult."
Unlike last season, when Hamilton's biggest rival was teammate Valtteri Bottas, he's now in a championship fight with a driver from another team. However, Hamilton made it clear he's maintained the same approach.
"It's exactly the same if I'm really honest, whether you're fighting your teammate or another team," Hamilton added. "But it's a different journey that you go on when it's internal.
"The journey you go on with a smaller group of people within your own team, as opposed to a whole team fighting another team. It's a much better dynamic, it's a much more enjoyable journey. But from a driver's point of view, I race against whoever."
Video: How do Hamilton and Verstappen compare so far in 2021?
RacingNews365.com takes a look at how Hamilton and Verstappen stack up in terms of their performances over the first half of the 2021 F1 World Championship.