Rivalry driving Hamilton

F1 championship leader Lewis Hamilton soaking in the atmosphere at Missoni's fashion show in Milan last Saturday. The Briton has not enjoyed much success at the Malaysian Grand Prix with only one win in 2014, but he will be hoping to sign off from Se
F1 championship leader Lewis Hamilton soaking in the atmosphere at Missoni's fashion show in Milan last Saturday. The Briton has not enjoyed much success at the Malaysian Grand Prix with only one win in 2014, but he will be hoping to sign off from Sepang in triumphant style.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

3-time champ seeks to extend 28-point margin over Vettel in Sepang's final F1 race

KUALA LUMPUR • Lewis Hamilton says he is "loving" his world championship battle with Sebastian Vettel so much that he has banished any thoughts of retirement as he heads into Sunday's last Malaysian Grand Prix.

At Sepang a year ago, the Briton thought the world was against him, spouting conspiracy theories when his Mercedes engine exploded while leading, which handed a 23-point championship cushion to team-mate and eventual champion Nico Rosberg.

It left the three-time Formula One world champion at such a low ebb that there were rumours he could retire.

But a rejuvenated Hamilton this season broke Michael Schumacher's record for career pole positions, and even spoke about attempting to match the German great's record 91 race victories after his 60th win - and third in a row - in Singapore.

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"I definitely have thought about (retirement)," the Mercedes driver admitted on a British TV chat show at the weekend. "But then we're in the heat of this battle right now and I'm loving it more than ever. It's the greatest feeling ever so I'm going to keep going for as long as I can and see what I can do."

Hamilton's calamitous luck of last season has turned full circle, epitomised by his win in Singapore 11 days ago after pole-sitter Vettel's Ferrari was shunted by Max Verstappen and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen on a rain-sodden first lap.

Hamilton, who started fifth on the grid, avoided the carnage and emerged victorious to extend his championship lead over Vettel from three to 28 points with six races to go, starting with Malaysia's swansong.

But Mercedes chief Toto Wolff warned Hamilton to stay focused as the championship is far from over.

"We will need to be on top of our game at every track to maintain our lead," he said. "The last race was a strong reminder that sport always has the power to surprise. We have been on the receiving end of those bad memories before."

Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene vowed to keep the pressure on Mercedes. "Singapore doesn't mean the battle is over," he said. "Just that it has become more difficult."

Vettel will look to strike back on a track where alongside Schumacher he has the best record of any driver, with four victories.

TITANIC TUSSLE

We're in the heat of this battle right now and I'm loving it more than ever. It's the greatest feeling ever.

LEWIS HAMILTON, Mercedes driver, on this year's title race with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton's lone Malaysian success came in 2014. A year ago, Red Bull, who this week announced Aston Martin as their title sponsor from next season, benefited from Hamilton's meltdown as they completed a one-two and they have been getting steadily stronger.

Daniel Ricciardo 12 months ago shared a "shoey" - champagne from his driving boot - with Max Verstappen after his surprise win. But a group of over-exuberant Australian fans were arrested for celebrating by stripping down to their underwear, a huge no-no in conservative Malaysia.

"My victory last year was definitely unexpected," said Ricciardo this week. "It just goes to show you never know what can happen."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2017, with the headline 'Rivalry driving Hamilton'. Print Edition | Subscribe