TOKYO (AFP) – Lewis Hamilton wants a first Japanese Grand Prix victory on the demanding Suzuka track this weekend to complete a hat-trick of wins and pull away from Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ championship.
The 29-year-old Briton and his German rival are trying to douse their rivalry, but with Hamilton only leading by three points with just five races remaining, the team tensions are never far from the surface.
Hamilton, however, has never won at the high-speed ‘figure of eight’ circuit.
He won the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix when it was held at Fuji. But having grown up watching the great dramas at Suzuka, where many title battles have been settled, he has a special appreciation for the challenge of the 5.807-km track.
“Suzuka is one of the places on the calendar that drivers love the most and arguably it is one of the greatest tracks in the world,” said Hamilton, whose victory in Singapore, where Rosberg retired with electronic problems, enabled him to overtake in the championship.
“There’s so much history and there have been so many defining moments there, like those unforgettable battles between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
“I’ve never won at this circuit and have only made the podium once, on my first visit in 2009. I’ve had a couple of chances and last season was probably the best of those.
“This year, though, we have an exceptional car and I’m really hoping I’ll finally have my shot at the top step. All the greats of Formula One have won at Suzuka since the sport first went there and I’m determined to add my name to that list this weekend.”
The Suzuka winners’ list is led by German Michael Schumacher with six victories ahead of compatriot Sebastian Vettel on four and a cluster of two-time victors including Brazilian Senna, Finn Mika Hakkinen and Briton Damon Hill, all world champions.
“Suzuka is the one track I want to win at – I have a serious target there,” added Hamilton.
After his setback in Singapore, Rosberg is equally determined to make the most of Mercedes’ expected domination around the high-speed curves that should suit their car.
“Suzuka is going to be awesome for our car – we will be flying in sector one!” said Rosberg. Mercedes’ rivals closed the gap in Singapore on sheer pace, but he suggested that was down to the heat, humidity and track conditions.
The two Mercedes men still managed to register their seventh front-row lockout in qualifying.
“Singapore is a unique track and the overheating of the tyres was at its highest, maybe compared to all the other tracks with the super-soft tyre,” said Rosberg.
“Definitely the others were close, but if we remember Austria, for example, the Williams were quicker than us in qualifying – and then, after that, different tracks came and we were looking really strong again.