Title race not over: Hamilton

Mercedes driver wary despite 40-point lead; Ferrari rival Vettel feels he can close the gap

SOCHI (Russia) • Lewis Hamilton dismissed talk that his fifth Formula One championship title is in the bag, but warned rival Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari that he felt stronger than ever and is in a better position than last year.

The Mercedes driver, on 281 points and 40 clear of the German with six races remaining, sounded relaxed at the Sochi Autodrom ahead of tomorrow's Russian Grand Prix.

"I don't think you ever have one hand on it," he said.

"You either have both hands on it or you don't. There's still a long way to go and a lot of points available."

The Briton added that a lot of things, largely invisible to anyone outside the team, had made the difference compared to the last campaign - improved relationships and communication, health and time management.

Mercedes have yet to be beaten in four Russian grands prix, with Hamilton winning two of them and teammate Valtteri Bottas taking the chequered flag last year.

The 33-year-old arrives this time on the back of four triumphs in five races and another victory tomorrow would be his eighth of the campaign, leaving him in a good position to possibly secure back-to-back titles without having to win again.

Hamilton added it had taken him time to get up to speed because he had started the term still exploring the car's complexities and how to get more out of it than even the team imagined possible.

The Russian Grand Prix was held in April last year, with Hamilton finishing fourth, but this season's schedule change means Mercedes come to Sochi with their car and driver much more in tune.

"I really do believe this weekend we will be in a better position than we were last year," he said.

"Our understanding of the tyre is far greater than it was last year when we arrived here.

"It's still a challenge to get right. We will take our understanding of last year with a pinch of salt because the car is different and we've got a different tyre this weekend. We'll be faced with different challenges."

However, Vettel feels the points gap is not insurmountable. "This year, we expect to be competitive (here)," the 31-year-old said.

"We need to not get distracted by the results but focus on the job. We have a fair chance, you never know what's going to happen."

Elsewhere, Haas confirmed yesterday that they would be retaining drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen for next season.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2018, with the headline 'Title race not over: Hamilton'. Print Edition | Subscribe