Lewis Hamilton can take a major step toward a fifth Formula One title at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, a race the Mercedes driver has dominated in recent years.
After winning last week’s Russian Grand Prix, Hamilton leads Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 50 points with five races left.
Hamilton has won three of the last four races at Suzuka with the only other win going to Hamilton’s former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016. He heads into Sunday’s race having won five of the last six races.
“Lewis is hungry, focused and completely determined to succeed,” Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said. “It’s been great to see the power he has brought to this championship, and how he has taken it to the next level.”
Hamilton’s win in Sochi was overshadowed by the decision to have teammate Valtteri Bottas pull over to let Hamilton pass. Bottas started from pole and was in position for his first win of 2018 when the decision was made by the team.
Wolff insisted ahead of the Japanese GP that the team orders tactic was justified.
“The battle with Ferrari remains extremely close, as was underlined by Sebastian’s pace on Sunday and the pressure he put us under,” Wolff said. “In the end, we left Sochi with a bigger lead. But we know that doesn’t mean anything because our fight with Ferrari is far from being over.”
Even if Vettel wins all five remaining races, he’s not guaranteed to beat Hamilton.
But Vettel, who has had his own success at Suzuka — winning four times between 2009 and 2013 — wasn’t about to concede the championship.
“We need to keep pushing and try,” the Ferrari driver said. “Who knows what will happen in the next races.”
Meanwhile, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will be looking to follow up on his impressive showing in Russia.
On his 21st birthday, Verstappen started 19th but charged through the field to finish fifth.
It was another dramatic drive from Verstappen, who over four seasons has firmly established himself as F1’s most aggressive and exciting racer, but has never had a car capable of a true title challenge.
Verstappen has fond memories of the Suzuka circuit, having made his F1 debut here in by taking part in the first free practice at the 2014 Japanese GP.