Lewis Hamilton’s first retirement of the season in Singapore was promptly consigned to the dustbin of history when he followed it with a win at the last round in Japan, and he was buoyant and determined to continue his stranglehold on the drivers’ championship in Russia.
Hamilton won in Sochi last year at the circuit’s first grand prix, with a peerless run from pole to flag without surrendering the lead, a feat he has also achieved in the championship battle with his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, who trails him by 48 points with five races remaining.
Indeed, Rosberg would not take the title if he won all five – he needs Hamilton to suffer another DNF or to finish out of the points as well. Heavy rain largely made a washout of the second practice session on Friday and for Hamilton, with the chance of a third title tantalisingly close, not slipping up is key.
However, his natural confidence ever to the fore, he was also displaying the calmness allied to determination that has been one of his strengths over the past three years with Mercedes and insisted he would not be sitting back waiting for the title to come to him.
“I am going to keep pushing, I feel good about this weekend,” he said. “I feel positive, the last race was amazing, I went home buzzing. I flew home with Niki Lauda and couldn’t sleep on the flight and was just smiling the whole way. The race felt bloody awesome, one of my favourite feelings recently and I hope to have that this weekend.”
His team have a specific target for Sunday – wrapping up the constructors’ championship. If they outscore the second-placed Ferrari by three points the title is theirs for a second year in succession, at the same circuit where they finished the job last season. It is a race earlier than in 2014, a palpable illustration not only of their dominance but striking reliability. Hamilton’s aberration in Singapore is Mercedes’ only DNF from the 14 meetings this year.
The British driver acknowledged the team’s achievement since returning to the sport in 2009. “There are times when this team didn’t have much success,” he said. “It wasn’t down to [former Mercedes motorsport vice-president] Norbert Haug, not just Mercedes, it was just how it was moulded together and now it’s formed well.
“When we go to the track, this team’s set-up is so precision perfect, when you go into the garage, how it is detailed, the vision from the bosses has gone down throughout the group.”
Having won his first title with McLaren in 2008 after the CEO Ron Dennis had signed him to their young driver programme when he was 13, his switch to Mercedes for 2013 came as a surprise to many. But in Sochi he confirmed he found the set-up with his new team more to his liking and one into which he has grown comfortable. “Ron achieved an amazing amount of success for so many years,” he said. “They are just in a bad spell right now. We had exceptional years there, but it was never quite right.
“We have a really innovative group of guys here. My aerodynamics expert was one of my guys at McLaren. It’s not that they didn’t have great vision, but they have so much more freedom here to do the right thing. I’ve really seen that and that’s why our car is so bloody good because he is among that group to have that freedom.”
McLaren are struggling desperately with their power unit and Hamilton is looking at a second title with Mercedes, making his move look inspired but while he suggested that Dennis’s relationship with his team made for a different atmosphere, he insisted he still had great respect for his former boss.
“When I walked in the garage with McLaren I felt great with the boys. It was more a point when Ron walked in the room and the other guys were more cautious. Whereas here, Toto [Wolff, Mercedes’ head of motorsport] walks in and I know there is a relaxed environment,” said Hamilton.
However, he added: “Ron is an amazing guy and has been amazing to me. I would not be here if he hadn’t noticed me when I was 10 and actually taken notice. The majority if not all the other people just saw me as another kid that came along. The guy has unbelievable vision. Every day, whilst I am racing for this team, not a moment goes by that I am not grateful for what he has given me that has enabled me to have the life I have.”
It has been one containing some serene driving and tense battling but here Hamilton’s fight will be with his team-mate rather than his former team.
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