F1 Raceweek: Lewis Hamilton relishing Sunday double as Mercedes seek history

Lewis Hamilton at the Japanese Grand Prix

Mercedes could win the constructors’ championship at a Japanese Grand Prix that has already been impacted by Typhoon Hagibis.

Lewis Hamilton is relishing the challenge of having qualifying and the race on the same day at the Japanese Grand Prix as his Mercedes team look to make Formula One history on Sunday.

Mercedes are looking to win a sixth consecutive constructors’ championship, which has only been done once before in the sport.

They would share the record with the dominant Ferrari team of Michael Schumacher from 1999-2004 if they can get over the line at Suzuka, while they will be the first outfit to win six consecutive double crowns if Hamilton goes on to win the drivers’ title.

To claim constructors’ glory this weekend, they must score 14 points more than Ferrari, given only 176 points will be left up for grabs after this weekend, with the lead presently sitting at 162.

The predicted effects of Typhoon Hagibis have led to a rearranged schedule at the circuit. There is no track activity on Saturday, with both qualifying and the race both to be run on Sunday.

In a different challenge for drivers, the race at an unforgiving circuit is due to start around three hours after the conclusion of qualifying. This also happened in Japan in 2004 and 2010.

If qualifying cannot take place as scheduled, the results of FP2 will stand for the grid line-up, with Valtteri Bottas ahead of Hamilton in a Mercedes one-two, while Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel make up the top five.

Mercedes were fortunate to win in Russia, helped by a virtual safety car as Ferrari’s run of three straight victories was ended, but they look the quickest this week after bringing upgrades to Asia.

“I’m definitely down for that,” Hamilton said of the challenge of qualifying and the race in quick succession.

“It’s cool when it’s a different format in some ways. It’s a different mentality you enter into and there are two different mindsets, two different rhythms.

“Normally you have time after qualifying to then calm down and chill and then ramp it up to the next day. But if you have to do it on the same day, it’s a different challenge and I like that.”

Hamilton cannot win the drivers’ championship this weekend, but holds a dominant 73-point advantage over Bottas, who has gone 12 races without a win.

The Briton could secure his sixth world title – and one of the most comfortable of his F1 career – as early as the Mexican Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.

But Bottas appears to be in a confident mood in Japan after topping both sessions on Friday.

He said: “It is only practice but I do still feel the gains we’ve made with the car. We can just push the car further than before. But still Sunday is going to be close.”

RIVALS ACKNOWLEDGE MERCEDES STEP FORWARD

Mercedes have won every Japanese Grand Prix in the hybrid era, also claiming pole on each occasion, with Vettel the last non-Mercedes driver to triumph when he was racing for Red Bull in 2013.

Ferrari drivers Vettel and Leclerc, both eager to move on from their bickering over the team radio about strategy in Sochi, acknowledged their rivals’ progress while also stressing they are not a million miles away themselves.

“Maybe they did a step forward, maybe the track suits them,” Vettel said of Mercedes.

“It was okay but we can improve. The conditions will be the biggest challenge. Our pace is not too bad – not as bad as maybe you think.”

Leclerc, meanwhile, said: “The balance is not that bad, actually. We are just lacking speed. There is a little bit in driving as well. I am not driving very well. But I still expect it to be hard to catch Mercedes in front – they are very quick.

“FP2 I think everyone approached it like a qualifying because we are not sure to do qualy on Sunday morning. So I believe this is more or less the real picture for the weekend.

“It seems we are lacking pace this weekend, which is a bit of surprise because we were very strong in the last four races and we expected to be quite good here.”

Verstappen was the closest to the Mercedes cars in practice and will be eyeing a seventh podium of the season at a track he has historically performed well at.

“I wasn’t totally happy with the balance initially but we improved a lot from FP1 to FP2 which you can see from the lap times,” he said.

“There are still improvements to be made and Mercedes are looking very strong, which is no surprise on this track. We have a full day to look at the data now.

“I’m not worried about doing qualifying and the race on Sunday as it won’t affect my approach. It’s out of our control.”

PREVIOUS WINNERS

2018: Lewis Hamilton
2017: Lewis Hamilton
2016: Nico Rosberg
2015: Lewis Hamilton

DRIVER STANDINGS

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 322
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 249 (-73)
3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 215 (-107)
4. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 212 (-110)
5. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 194 (-128)

CONSTRUCTOR STANDINGS

1. Mercedes 571
2. Ferrari 409 (-162)
3. Red Bull 311 (-260)
4. McLaren 101 (-470)
5. Renault 68 (-503)

WEATHER FORECAST 

The worst of the typhoon is expected to have passed by Sunday, leaving a dry race, though drivers will still have to contend with high winds, with some forecasts suggesting they could reach a speed of 57kmh.

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