SUZUKA, Japan (AFP) – Lewis Hamilton said yesterday that Sebastian Vettel was now “clearly not” number one at Ferrari but warned against the team “ramping up” support for rookie Charles Leclerc ahead of this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Ferrari’s botched team orders at the previous race in Russia two weeks ago handed Hamilton a surprise victory after Mercedes had trailed Ferrari on the timing sheets all weekend.
Vettel ignored team instruction several times to hand back the lead to Leclerc at Sochi. The German’s retirement with a mechanical problem and a virtual safety car then enabled Hamilton and Bottas to secure the top two steps of the podium.
Both Leclerc and Vettel were at pains yesterday to point out that all was now “clear” between them and Ferrari.
“It’s an interesting dynamic they have there because obviously Sebastian was number one and now clearly not,” Hamilton told reporters at Suzuka.
Leclerc has been the fastest man on the grid since the summer break, securing four straight pole positions and two race wins.
“From the kind of the energy, from the outlook, they’re trying to ramp Charles up to be (number one). Is that good for a team? I don’t think so,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton said he had a similar issue in his 2007 rookie season at McLaren when he partnered Fernando Alonso, and that didn’t end well after the Spaniard was angered by losing his number one status.
He said, “There are drivers that always wanted that number one status. I like to earn that. Start on an equal platform, then either of you can get that number one status on that weekend. Weekend-in, weekend-out.”
Mercedes can secure a record sixth successive constructors’ championship with another one-two in Japan.
Hamilton knows a victory on Sunday will leave only his teammate Valtteri Bottas able to catch him in the remaining four races.
But tomorrow’s qualifying and practice have been put in doubt by the approach of Super Typhoon Hagibis, which has already caused havoc with the cancellation of two Rugby World Cup games.
Japanese Grand Prix organisers will decide at noon today (0300 GMT) whether to scrap tomorrow’s schedule, saying the safety of fans and drivers was their top priority.
A relaxed Hamilton, though, did not seem bothered by Hagibis, categorised as “violent” – the highest level on the Japan storm scale, even if it causes qualifying to be shifted to Sunday morning.