Lewis seeks Ja­pan boost af­ter Sochi rum­pus

The Phnom Penh Post - - SPORT -

LEWIS Hamil­ton will be look­ing to re­store nor­mal ser­vice at the Ja­panese Grand Prix af­ter be­ing gifted a con­tro­ver­sial vic­tory by Mercedes in Rus­sia last week­end.

But the run­away For­mula One cham­pi­onship leader ap­pears to have com­pli­cated that task by re­fus­ing to rule out leav­ing Mercedes when his cur­rent con­tract ex­pires in 2020.

Hamil­ton (pic­tured, AFP) was al­lowed to claim a 70th ca­reer win when Valt­teri Bot­tas was or­dered to move over in Sochi – with the world cham­pion de­scrib­ing it as “the strangest day” of his ca­reer.

The Bri­ton, who has opened a 50-point ad­van­tage over Fer­rari’s Se­bas­tian Vet­tel with five races left this sea­son, will want to prove he can win in his own right at Suzuka this week as he chases a fifth ti­tle.

Vet­tel called the de­ci­sion by Mercedes to sac­ri­fice a rare Bot­tas vic­tor y and ex­tend Hamil­ton’s cham­pi­onship lead a “no-brainer”.

How­ever, Hamil­ton’s eighth win of the sea­son and third in a row left the Sil­ver Ar­rows red­faced and sparked fresh de­bate over team orders with many For­mula One fans tak­ing to so­cial me­dia to vent their anger.

De­spite the crit­i­cism, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff in­sisted he had no re­grets about is­su­ing the in­struc­tion to let Hamil­ton pass.

“I’d rather be the bad­die to­day than the id­iot at the end of the year,” he said. “Ra­tion­ally, it was the right call.”

Wolff ex­pects Hamil­ton, who won in Ja­pan for the fourth time last year, to con­tinue his dom­i­nance this week­end.

“Lewis is hun­gry, fo­cused and com­pletely de­ter­mined to suc­ceed,” the Aus­trian said.

“It has been great to see the power he has brought to this cham­pi­onship and how he’s taken it to the next level since the sum­mer break.”

‘Un­beat­able unit’ nit’

But Hamil­ton ton has set tongues ues wag­ging i n the build-up to the race by hint­ing g he could leave Mercedes af t e r hi s present deal runs out.

“I’ve given them em a lot,” Hamil­ton told Swiss news­pa­per Blick.

“Mercedes and nd Hamil­ton – that’s an al­most ost un­beat­able unit. I don’t n’t know, ask me again at the end of 2020,” he added dded when quizzed about his fu­ture.

Mea n wh i l e, , Ve t t e l ’s hopes of a dra­matic matic turn­around look in­creas­ingly creas­ingly for­lorn af­ter fin­ish­ing third be­hind the two Mercedes in Rus­sia.

A fifth Ja­panese vic­tory this week­end would be j just the ticket for the Ger­man, who won four con­sec­u­tive world ch cham­pi­onships with Red Bull from f 2010 to 2013.

But Vet­tel, w who be­gan the sea sea­son with back-to-b back-to-back vic­to­ries, also kn knows he needs a huge h slice of luck to stand any chance of h a l t i n g Hamil­ton’s Hamilt charge to the titl ti­tle. “I w wasn’t a ge­niu ge­nius in ma t h s – but it’s not g e t t i n g e a s i e r i f we l o s e points,” he said. “I still be­lieve in our chances, yes. It takes one DNF [did not fin­ish] and then all of a sud­den things look dif­fer­ent.”

Kimi Raikko­nen can ex­pect an emo­tional re­cep­tion from his le­gion of Ja­panese fans in his fi­nal Suzuka race for Fer­rari af­ter learn­ing last month that the team would not be re­tain­ing his ser­vices for 2019. The Finn will move to Sauber for the next two sea­sons at least.

Hamil­ton sug­gested Fer­rari were mak­ing a mis­take in dis­pens­ing with the 2007 world cham­pion, who was the last man to win the driv­ers’ ti­tle with the Maranello team.

“He is an ex­traor­di­nary pro­fes­sional and a fan­tas­tic driver,” he said. “He re­mains one of my favourite driv­ers and I’m con­vinced that Fer­rari is los­ing a very im­por­tant driver. It makes no sense to me.”

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