Motor racing: Mercedes will burn rubber in Suzuka: Hamilton

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain in action during the second practice session of the Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit yesterday. The championship leader will look to extend his 34-point cushion over arch-rival Sebastian Vettel of Fe
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain in action during the second practice session of the Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit yesterday. The championship leader will look to extend his 34-point cushion over arch-rival Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari and possibly extinguish any lingering title hopes the German may have tomorrow.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

F1 leader's car raring to go for Japanese GP, as Renault's appointment causes uproar

SUZUKA (Japan) • Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton has warned his title rivals that his Mercedes machine is "back to normal" for the Japanese Grand Prix, after struggling for pace in Singapore and Malaysia.

The Briton splashed gingerly to the fastest time of a soaking second session after an absorbing morning run-out in Suzuka.

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel set the pace yesterday with a blistering drive in the morning's free practice before rain caused havoc in the afternoon.

Delayed by 50 minutes as rain lashed down, the afternoon looked like being a complete washout as team engineers amused themselves by floating paper boats along a river of water gushing down the pit lane.

When the cars did finally creep out, puddles made the going treacherous, but Hamilton steered his Mercedes to the quickest time of 1 minute and 48.719 seconds.

"It's been an interesting day," said Hamilton, who finished second to Red Bull's Max Verstappen in Malaysia after winning the Singapore Grand Prix. "The car is feeling much better than it was in Malaysia. It feels back to normal, so I'm ready to race."

Vettel topped the time sheets in a morning session, which was temporarily disrupted after Carlos Sainz smashed his Toro Rosso into a wall.

What is a Formula One driver to do, when he is all psyched up but the rain has put a temporary stop to a practice run? For Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein (far right), it is a time to float, or would that be race, a paper boat down the pit lane, with h
F1 boats?: What is a Formula One driver to do, when he is all psyched up but the rain has put a temporary stop to a practice run? For Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein (right), it is a time to float, or would that be race, a paper boat down the pit lane, with help from his team mechanic. When the second practice session at the F1 Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka yesterday restarted after a 50-minute delay due to the torrential rain, puddles made the going treacherous, but overall F1 leader Lewis Hamilton (below) managed to steer his Mercedes race car to the quickest time of the wet session in 1min 48.719sec. His closest rival, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, had set the fastest dry-session time during the first practice session in 1min 29.166sec. The duo are set to battle it out in the remaining five races in the season to determine the overall F1 champion. PHOTOS: EPE-EFE
 

What is a Formula One driver to do, when he is all psyched up but the rain has put a temporary stop to a practice run? For Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein (far right), it is a time to float, or would that be race, a paper boat down the pit lane, with h

His time of 1:29.166 was almost 20 seconds quicker than Hamilton's wet run.

"The results were not the best the last couple of races, but I think we are strong so we have all reason to be confident," said the German, who finished fourth in Malaysia last weekend from the back of the grid. "I'm pretty sure on Sunday we will be able to show what we can do."

Vettel, four times a winner here with Red Bull, trails Hamilton by 34 points with five of the 20 races left this season and faces a potential must-win race tomorrow.

There was drama outside the figure-of-eight Japan circuit too.

Renault yesterday said that they have signed former F1 technical chief Marcin Budkowski as their new executive director, sparking a row over possible data leaks.

The bombshell move - confirmed before the Japanese Grand Prix - has triggered an angry backlash from Renault's rivals as he knows intimate details of the top teams from his previous role, which he left last week.

Renault said in a statement that Budkowski would "oversee all the activities in the development and production of the chassis".

In his former position with the sport's governing body the FIA, the Pole was responsible for liaising with teams to guarantee the compliance of their cars.

FIA officials had said Budkowski would serve three months of gardening leave before being released from his contract, but opposing teams fearful of potential skulduggery have blasted that time frame as being woefully short.

"There needs to be a proper element of garden leave before he takes all that knowledge to another team," said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. "Three months is just crazy, for the top position it's nuts!"

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

F1 JAPANESE GP
Practice 3 & qualifying Singtel TV Ch115 & StarHub Ch209, 10.55am & 1.30pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2017, with the headline 'Mercedes will burn rubber: Hamilton'. Print Edition | Subscribe