Motor racing: Hamilton needs a Suzuka hat-trick after Sepang blow

Flames shoot out the back of Lewis Hamilton's car after his engine caught fire, during the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang on Oct 2, 2016.
Flames shoot out the back of Lewis Hamilton's car after his engine caught fire, during the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang on Oct 2, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

SUZUKA, Japan (REUTERS) - Lewis Hamilton will have to dig deep to overcome the heartbreak of Malaysia, as he heads into Sunday's Formula One Japanese Grand Prix needing a third straight win at the Suzuka circuit to revive his flagging title prospects.

The three-time world champion's hopes of claiming a fourth title were dealt a heavy blow last Sunday at the Sepang circuit, where he was forced to retire with a blown engine while holding a comfortable lead with 16 laps remaining.

That allowed Australian Daniel Ricciardo to score his first win of the year ahead of Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen in the team's first one-two finish since the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Had Hamilton won, scoring a landmark 50th career victory, he would have vaulted back to the top of the overall standings ahead of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.

Instead he heads to Japan needing to bridge a 23-point gap to the German, who finished third in Malaysia after being spun around and dropped to the back of the field by Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel at the start.

The four-time world champion will drop three grid places in Japan as punishment for tipping Rosberg into the spin.

"It's not how you fall, it's how you get back up," Hamilton told reporters.

"If I can find strength from within to be able to come to these next races and perform like I've performed this weekend then, providing the car holds together, good things will come."

Sunday's engine failure was the latest in a spate of reliability issues that have plagued Hamilton's 2016 campaign and prompted the Briton to hint at a conspiracy.

He turned a deficit of 43 points to Rosberg earlier in the season into a 19-point advantage over the German with a streak of six wins from seven races, but he is running out of time to mount another comeback with only five races left.

Rosberg, whose Finnish father Keke took the 1982 title with a single race win, is keeping his focus squarely on Japan.

"I'm quite liking my approach of just seeing it as a weekend-on-a-weekend basis so don't have such thoughts and just accepting the way it went today," he said. "Next is Suzuka where I want to try and win again."

Mercedes can win the constructors' championship on Sunday for the third year in a row.

McLaren will also be hoping to put on a strong showing in engine supplier Honda's home race.

The former champions and Japanese manufacturer, who own the Suzuka circuit, renewed their once-dominant partnership last season but endured a bruising year.

Fernando Alonso criticised the engine as "GP2" standard during last year's race but the team have made steady progress this season and are optimistic about their chances of finishing in the points on home soil.