• ‘I drove as hard as I could,’ says Hamilton after fifth-place finish
• Briton accepts no blame for accident involving Felipe Massa
Lewis Hamilton has admitted he was simply not quick enough during a poor performance at the Japanese Grand Prix, where he finished fifth, but has also attempted to further defuse any antagonism with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, who called yesterday for the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile to investigate the Briton’s driving after the pair clashed on track for the second week in succession.
Asked whether he had been suffering from tyre problems, the McLaren driver answered: “No, just not fast enough.” Nor, he admitted, was it a question of his focus or concentration. “I don’t think I need to do any refocusing,” he said. “I drove as hard as I could. It wasn’t because I wasn’t thinking during the race. I don’t know what the answer is. I just wasn’t quick enough. I was quick in qualifying. I just wasn’t quick in the race.”
Massa and Hamilton had already been involved in accidents this season at Monaco and Singapore and they came together again at the entrance to the chicane here, with Massa later accusing the British driver of moving into him. “They have penalised people for much less this year and this time they didn’t do it,” he said. “The FIA needs to take care of that. They are the only ones who can take care of that.”
In fairness to Hamilton, Massa was attempting to pass around the outside on the entrance to the chicane, an unusual overtaking spot at best, and the British driver was on his racing line. As Massa turned in to try to make the corner, his sidepod struck Hamilton’s left rear tyre. Hamilton said afterwards that he did not know the Brazilian was next to him: “I can’t see anything out of my mirrors and they vibrate down the straight so much that I had no idea he was there,” he explained. The stewards assessed that Hamilton had kept to his line and classified it as a racing incident at the time and Hamilton has since stressed it was not deliberate: “I honestly didn’t see him on the outside,” he said. “So it was unintentional but very close.”
While attention has focused on the manoeuvre simply because it involved Hamilton and Massa, the British driver can dismiss it as a racing incident and move on. What will be of more concern to him, however, is that he finds himself battling Massa, who has had a poor season, rather than his real rivals – Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and the newly crowned world champion Sebastian Vettel, at the head of the field.
His team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, believes the driver will still come back strongly in Korea next week. “You look at any top international athlete. Their confidence and form ebbs and flows a little bit, and you have to say that, at the moment, some of it is luck,” he said. “He is in a situation where he will, and can, recover very, very quickly from that.”
Taking his third win this season in Japan, meanwhile, a buoyant Button is confident that he and his team-mate finally have the car under them to challenge for more wins, this year and next: “There’s still more that we can achieve this year,” he said. “I’d love to go out and fight to win the next few races, and I think we have the car and the team to go and do that. We’ll keep pushing and hope to get some more wins this year, but we’re also in a very good place right now – and I think that’s key to success in 2012.”
Vettel confirmed that the team were satisfied with him taking third place during the race. “I got a radio call that the priority was to finish the race,” he said, adding: “Obviously, it was a fantastic day for us. When we crossed the line it was certainly a big relief.” A day finished off, rightly, with some celebrations – Vettel spent Sunday night at an Irish bar singing karaoke with his team-mates. “We had a little bit of a celebration last night,” he admitted. “But not too much because this week we go to Korea.”
Guardian Co Uk