Lewis Hamilton says he’s ‘prepared for war’ in Japan
Hamilton leads Vettel by 34 points after he claimed second place last week in Malaysia
Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes AMG GP greets a fan at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, central Japan. Photo: Franck Robichon/EPA
Lewis Hamilton has said there will be no let-up in his drive to claim a fourth Formula One world championship as the season enters the final five meetings at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. The British driver was insistent that his battle with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel would remain fiercely competitive and that he would “prepare for war”.
Hamilton leads Vettel by 34 points after he claimed second place at the last round in Malaysia while Vettel, who had started at the back of the grid, could manage only fourth. Hamilton, who had struggled with his car in Sepang with the Mercedes proving difficult to set up and lacking the pace of both the Red Bulls and Ferraris, was under no illusions of what he had to do to maintain the advantage.
“I’ve got to make sure I’m fit, healthy, focused,” he said. “Basically prepare for war. That’s what I try and do, make sure every weekend I’m the best prepared I can be.”
Hamilton had trailed Vettel in the title race until Monza but he has now won four of the last five races and seven this season. Vettel has four victories but the Ferrari was quicker at the last two rounds and displayed a marked improvement in pace after an engine upgrade in Malaysia. He dropped points after going out in a first-lap crash in Singapore and the grid penalty at Sepang.
If Hamilton leaves Japan with a 28-point gap over Vettel, he can afford to finish second at the remaining meetings and still take the title. But he and his team, who are still having to work at how best to manage their car at different circuits and under differing conditions, were aware they could take nothing for granted.
“The goal is to continue to win races even if I don’t have to,” he said. “I’m still hunting it, I’m not defending it, I’m still hunting, I’m still chasing. Until that last flag, until I’ve actually got it, you’ve got to keep pushing as hard as you can. I don’t foresee any of the coming races being easy, we need to stay on our toes as it can still be lost.”
Certainly he will be confident he in his own ability to master the unforgiving test of Suzuka. The track rewards precision and commitment, both of which characterise Hamilton’s style, if he is comfortable he has the car he requires, although it is not reflected in his record at Suzuka – where he has won only twice before, in 2014 and 2015.
One of the finest moments of his career was at the Japanese Grand Prix when it was held at Fuji Speedway in 2007. He won there in terrible conditions and has described it as one of his five best races. Unsurprisingly, his performance won him a lot of Japanese supporters.
Hamilton is certainly not lacking support here. The Japanese fans were out in force – with several thousand in the main grandstand alone, on a day when no cars are on track.
Alongside the usual array of detailed home-made headwear – including rear wings, with working DRS lovingly attached to some crash hats – was a swathe of union flags emblazoned with messages of support for Hamilton and he was fulsome in his gratitude for the encouragement.
However, his focus remained firmly on claiming the title by earning it. “I don’t want to rely on fortune from the others’ misfortune,” he said. “Ultimately if it’s on personal performance from Sebastian, I’m not bothered about that.”
The key factor that could remain decisive in the championship was whether Mercedes could master the demanding requirements of their car for the remaining rounds.
“I’m confident in the car, confident in it working at some stages,” he said. “Just still this deep into the season I have no idea where it’s gonna be good, where it’s gonna be great like Silverstone or where it’ll be a real struggle like Malaysia or Singapore.
“That’s the exciting thing. If we were going into the race beyond this and knew what was going to happen it would be kind of dull. I like that I’m arriving and I don’t know.”