Formula One: Hamilton not out of race

Lewis Hamilton has not won a race since July and trails team-mate Nico Rosberg by 33 points with four races remaining.
Lewis Hamilton has not won a race since July and trails team-mate Nico Rosberg by 33 points with four races remaining.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Mercedes, Red Bull team bosses say the reigning champion is still a title contender

SUZUKA (JAPAN) • Mercedes insist that their troubled driver Lewis Hamilton can still take the Formula One season to the wire despite another difficult weekend at the Japanese Grand Prix.

His team-mate Nico Rosberg won for the ninth time this season to extend his championship lead to 33 points with four races to go.

Hamilton, who has not won a race since July, was third and the destiny of the title is now beyond his control.

But Mercedes' head of motor sport, Toto Wolff, says Hamilton can still win because he can take positives from his setbacks and that "he needs the enemy".

Wolff, who barely had time to savour a third straight constructors' title for Mercedes in Japan, said: "Thirty-three points is a lot, but you can see how quick it goes. It's not over - there's four weekends to go.

"Lewis functions best when he is under pressure and has a target. He will regroup. He is very strong and he needs the enemy - sometimes more than one. I think it will go to the end."

"Just after the race is not the right moment to put the finger where it hurts," Wolff added, looking forward to the next race in Austin, Texas, in two weeks.

"We need to calm down and find out what happened. Our main emphasis will be building Lewis up. We have 10 days before Austin."

If Hamilton needs enemies he should be in good shape because he made plenty more with his petulant behaviour in Suzuka.

It started to go wrong for him on Thursday when he made a mockery of the official FIA press conference by playing with the smartphone app Snapchat. When he was roundly pilloried for that, he compounded his mistake two days later when he walked out of a press conference without taking any questions.

Then, after the race, he appeared to over-rule a decision by his team to appeal against the driving of Max Verstappen late in Sunday's race.

A week earlier, in Malaysia, he had risked "losing the dressing room" at Mercedes when he said that there was someone who did not want him to win the title - his engine had blown when he was 15 laps away from a certain victory.

The respected Sky TV commentator Martin Brundle said: "Instead of focusing on the world championship, he seems to be focusing on an app that puts bunny ears on people. It's childish and stupid."

It would be interesting to see what the American company Liberty Media, who are expected to complete their takeover of the sport next year, would make of their star refusing to engage the media.

The Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, like Wolff, believes the season is far from over.

He said: "You see sportsmen get on a crest of a wave and it is all going Nico's way, while Lewis has had quite a few tough races now.

"He will brush himself down, I am sure. He only needs a sniff of something - a DNF (did not finish) for Nico and a win for Lewis and he is right back in the game again. Things can change so, so quickly.

"We saw it with Kimi (Raikkonen) when he stole the championship from under the noses of Lewis and Fernando Alonso in 2007. There are still 100 points to play for and it would be a foolish man to rule Lewis out at this stage."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2016, with the headline 'Hamilton not out of race'. Print Edition | Subscribe