Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team will probably hold their breath for around an hour and a half on Sunday, hoping he will get through the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka without any technical hiccups.
Only a week ago in Malaysia, Hamilton’s engine blew up with 15 laps left while he was leading and set to reclaim the Formula One championship lead from teammate Nico Rosberg.
Two-time reigning champion Hamilton trails Rosberg by 23 points in the title hunt with five races left, but the Briton remains defiant.
“While the struggle is real right now and has been all year, I honestly feel that it’s a test of my will, my spirit and who I am as a person to get back in and keep fighting it head on. It’s not how you fall – it’s how you get back up,” he said after Sepang.
“Don’t forget that I’m world champion. I’ll be okay.”
Mercedes officials were clearly embarrassed that Hamilton lost points for the fourth time this season owing to technical problems, while Rosberg had (so far at least) been spared.
“It’s a freaky coincidence as to why he has suffered the majority of the engine problems this year – like the odds of throwing red six times in a row in the casino,” Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff said.
Technical director Paddy Lowe insisted the team wanted both drivers to fight out the championship on equal terms.
“One thing we had made a priority was to ensure an equal competition between the drivers in the final phase of the season, with no distortion of the battle through technical problems. Unfortunately, we have failed in that objective … in brutal fashion,” Lowe said.
Wolff praised Hamilton for an uplifting speech to his mechanics shortly after the mishap, saying: “This is what the great drivers do, the true champions, and I must express my respect for how he conducted himself.”
Rosberg is far from writing off Hamilton as he has seen him make up big deficits before. “I’m sure he will come back strong – he is a fighter.”
The German went through mixed emotions in Malaysia: hit in the first turn by Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari and dropping to the back of the field, but lucky that the car was not damaged which enabled him to fight back to third to increase his championship lead.
Mercedes get another chance at wrapping up a third straight constructors’ world title which they failed to do in Malaysia, where Red Bull took full advantage of Hamilton’s misfortune to get a one-two from Australian Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.