• Briton 28 points behind Mark Webber
• Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel wins at Suzuka
Lewis Hamilton’s hopes of winning his second Formula One world championship are almost certainly over after a weekend in Japan which he said was the worst of his career. The McLaren driver finished fifth in the Japanese grand prix today and he now trails the championship leader, Mark Webber of Red Bull, by 28 points with three races remaining. Hamilton is fourth in the standings, having been overtaken by Sebastian Vettel, who won here ahead of his team-mate Webber.
Hamilton’s weekend contained a series of mishaps. He crashed in the first practice session on Friday and was then given a five-place grid penalty when his team were forced to put a new gearbox on his car. After Hamilton started from eighth, that new gearbox malfunctioned and he could not access third gear in the second half of the race. To make matters worse, he had an ear infection.
“I’ve had bad weekends but nothing overall as bad,” said Hamilton. “This is the worst of all of them. I don’t know what I have been kicked around by but I have definitely had a tough one. The crash was my fault but the rest …” His voice tailed off, briefly. “I am just happy to have finished the race,” he said. “I mean that’s five races and two finishes.”
There was also little to smile about for Hamilton’s fellow Briton at McLaren, Jenson Button, who finished fourth and is now 31 points behind Webber. Hamilton said: “The championship doesn’t look great at the moment. But there are still three races to go and 75 points available, so we’ll remain optimistic and keep doing the best job we can. I’ll keep fighting.”
Could the season be rescued over the remaining grands prix?
“I have no idea, your guess is as good as mine,” he said. “If it is statistically possible, then it is realistically possible. We have to do as much as we can. It is all or nothing in the next three races. It is one of those character-building times that people talk about.”
He had feared he would not finish here after losing one of his gears. “I didn’t think it was going to make it, if I’m honest,” he said. “[The gearbox] was making a lot of noise, so I just kept my fingers crossed and tried not to do too many shifts and look after it. I had a good gap to those behind me, so I had a bit of time I could waste.
“[The ear infection] affected my balance a bit and left me deaf in [my] left ear. I could not use [an] ear plug. I used [a] cotton-wool bud. It was bruised and couldn’t hear a thing. Both ears [were] blocked in the race.”
Button, the reigning world champion, felt he that he had got the maximum out of his car, after McLaren made a series of upgrades which they hoped would make them more competitive. Button had tried to gain an advantage by starting with a harder tyre but his rivals maintained a strong pace on the softer “option” tyres.
“It was a tough race on such old tyres but it was fun once we’d fitted the option; the car felt great – I had a lot of grip and the car was very fast,” Button said. “Still, we weren’t quick enough today to beat the Red Bulls and possibly the Ferrari. And I don’t think we’d have finished any further up [with soft tyres for the whole race].”
He acknowledged that he could have changed tyres earlier. “I think we stayed out too long for our first stint,” he said. “As soon as we saw the others were quick on the option and I wasn’t able to pull a gap or pressure anyone in front, maybe it would have been sensible to pit at that point and fit the option. We’ll go away and look at the data and the reasons for it.”
Vettel said he was in a “very good position” in the title race. Webber, who leads by 14 points, was asked if his team-mate was his main rival. “Two weeks ago it was Lewis Hamilton, then it was Fernando [Alonso],” he said. “It’s chopping and changing but the most important thing is that the gap is going the right way. I need to keep it like that.”