Seconds out at Suzuka
> Mercedes wants drivers battle on equal terms as Hamilton aims to rebound at Japan GP
LEWIS HAMILTON and his Mercedes team will probably hold their breath for around an hour and a half on Sunday, hoping that he will get through the Japanese Grand Prix without any kind of technical hiccup.
The Suzuka race comes just a week after the Malaysian race where Hamilton’s engine blew up with 15 laps left while he was leading and set to reclaim the Formula One championship lead from teammate Nico Rosberg.
The two-time reigning champion Hamilton now trails Rosberg by 23 points in the title hunt with five races left, but the Briton remains defiant after first statements in frustration had been aimed at his team.
“While the struggle is real right now and has been all year, I honestly feel that it’s a test of my will, my spirit and who I am as a person to get back in and keep fighting it head on. It’s not how you fall, it’s how you get back up,” he said after the Sepang race.
“Don’t forget that I’m world champion. I’ll be okay.”
Mercedes officials were clearly embarrassed that Hamilton lost points for the fourth time this season owing to technical problems while Rosberg has (so far at least) been spared.
“It’s a freaky coincidence as to why he has suffered the majority of the engine problems this year - like the odds of throwing red six times in a row in the casino,” Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff said.
Technical director Paddy Lowe insisted that the team wants both of its drivers to fight out the championship on equal terms.
“One thing we had made a priority was to ensure an equal competition between the drivers in the final phase of the season, with no distortion of the battle through technical problems. Unfortunately, we have failed in that objective ... in brutal fashion,” Lowe said.
Wolff lauded Hamilton for giving an uplifting speech to his mechanics shortly after the mishap, saying: “This is what the great drivers do, the true champions, and I must express my respect for how he conducted himself.”
Rosberg meanwhile is far from writing off Hamilton as he has seen him make up big deficits before. He insisted: “I’m sure he will come back strong, he is a fighter.”
The German went through mixed emotions in Malaysia: hit in the first turn by Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari and dropping to the back of the field, but lucky that the car was not damaged which enabled him to fight back to third to increase his championship lead.
“Of course, the result in Malaysia went in my favour in the title battle. That’s a fact and I cannot pretend otherwise. But I haven’t been thinking about the points situation all season and I’m not going to start now. I’m here to win races and that’s the aim every time,” he said.
Rosberg is hoping for his first ever win in Suzuka while Hamilton has topped the podium the past two years.
Mercedes will have had a thorough look at why Hamilton’s engine blew up as they head to the 5.807km course which is immensely popular among the drivers as one of the biggest challenges of the season.
“It’s a proper old-school track; it’s so much fun to drive ... The main feature is the great rhythm you get as you drive through the lap,” Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg said.
Mercedes get another chance at wrapping up a third straight constructors’ world title which they failed to do in Malaysia where Red Bull took full advantage of Hamilton’s misfortune to get a one-two from Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.
They will be ready to pounce again in Japan as Mercedes’ main challenger, and advisor Helmut Marko even suggested it was their pressure in Sepang that made Hamilton’s engine fail.
“My guess is that we very likely forced him into that engine failure! We permanently put pressure on him, challenging his lead,” Marko said, adding that more is hopefully to come.
“A win is always contagious, so we will come back for more this season.” – dpa
Lewis Hamilton (centre) signs an autograph at the paddock prior to practice yesterday for the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on Sunday.