Japanese Grand Prix – Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton says he’s at a loss to explain why Ferrari & Sebastian Vettel’s title challenge has fallen apart so badly in the last few weeks.
Vettel’s title campaign had been going very strongly up until the Belgian Grand Prix, the first race after the summer break. While there had been errors like his late race outbraking at Baku, the first corner collision in France and his race ending crash while leading in Germany, Vettel’s form was strong and Ferrari were quick. At Spa, Vettel powered past Hamilton down the Kemmel Straight on the opening lap and went on to win by ten seconds.
However, in the races since, Ferrari have fallen apart. Monza, despite being a Ferrari front-row lock-out, went Hamilton’s way when Vettel spun off on the opening lap, while Singapore, Russia & France all saw Mercedes dominate with Ferrari struggling for pace. Japan was more of the same; Mercedes claimed an easy 1-2, with their nearest rivals being Red Bull – the closest Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen finished almost a minute behind Hamilton.
Asked why he thought Vettel’s form had fallen away, Hamilton said he didn’t have a clue apart from Mercedes concentrating on upping their game after the summer break: “In terms of Sebastian’s performance… Of course, I didn’t expect… Up until the mid-part of the season they were very strong and then we obviously got to Monza and then after that they were still quite strong from Monza, Singapore and then at Singapore was when it really started to tail off. I definitely hadn’t anticipated that they would tail off as they have. Not only have they lost a lot of performance, lost performance… just performances have not been coming in the same as they had before, as strong as they were before.”
“I don’t really have an answer for that and it’s not something I’m really focused on. I’m sure Sebastian could tell you why. We’ve just been focusing on trying to do the best job we can and maximise the potential of our own ability, that’s all we can do. When we got to mid-season we got that win going into the break and then again, really pushing to make sure that we come back even stronger so again, set the bar high. That’s what we were hoping to achieve, it’s not always the case, it’s really not always the case that you achieve your target but I think we have through really great hard work from everyone.”
Having enjoyed a lights to flag victory at Suzuka with almost no challenge from anywhere due to Valtteri Bottas slotting into P2, he said he was able to concentrate on reeling out the laps and enjoying the circuit: “I was having so much fun driving this track. I was really able to just embrace the moment and enjoy every single lap, every single corner and the feel of the car. Suzuka is such a unique circuit, you go down a hill into Turn 1, then up-hill, you go underneath the track – it’s one of my favourite circuits. The pace was really great and this is definitely the best weekend I’ve had here and the best feeling I’ve had here balance-wise, it was really lovely. Everyone at the track and back home in the factories deserves a huge thank you for their continued efforts, they just continue to push and deliver, weekend after weekend. This result was really the best way to repay all their hard work.”