Sec­onds out at Suzuka

> Mercedes wants driv­ers bat­tle on equal terms as Hamil­ton aims to re­bound at Ja­pan GP

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

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

– AFPPIX

Lewis Hamil­ton (cen­tre) signs an autograph at the pad­dock prior to prac­tice yes­ter­day for the For­mula One Ja­panese Grand Prix in Suzuka on Sun­day.

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