Lewis Hamilton looked brimming with confidence as he arrived at Suzuka ahead of this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.
The Brit can take a major step towards a fifth Formula One title in a race the Mercedes driver has dominated in recent years.
After winning last week’s Russian Grand Prix, Hamilton leads Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 50 points with five races left.
Lewis Hamilton lifts up a baby soon after arriving at an autograph session in Japan
Hamilton was quick to give the baby back to its mother before the start of practice sessions
Hamilton takes time out to greet a fan’s dog after arriving at Japan’s Suzuka Circuit
Hamilton dons a yellow and black tracksuit as he makes his way into Mercedes’ paddock
|1. Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||8||306|
|2. Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||5||256|
|3. Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||0||189|
|4. Kimi Raikkonen||Ferrari||0||186|
|5. Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1||158|
|6. Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||2||134|
|7. Kevin Magnussen||Haas||0||53|
|8. Nico Hulkenberg||Renault||0||53|
|9. Fernando Alonso||McLaren||0||50|
|10. Sergio Perez||Force India||0||47|
|11. Esteban Ocon||Force India||0||47|
|12. Carlos Sainz||Renault||0||38|
|13. Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso||0||28|
|14. Romain Grosjean||Haas||0||27|
|15. Charles Leclerc||Sauber||0||21|
|16. Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren||0||8|
|17. Lance Stroll||Williams||0||6|
|18. Marcus Ericsson||Sauber||0||6|
|19. Brendon Hartley||Toro Rosso||0||2|
|20. Sergey Sirotkin||Williams||0||1|
Hamilton has won three of the last four races at Suzuka with the only other win going to his former Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in 2016. He heads into Sunday’s race having won five of the last six races.
‘Lewis is hungry, focused and completely determined to succeed,’ Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said. ‘It’s been great to see the power he has brought to this championship, and how he has taken it to the next level.’
Hamilton’s win in Sochi was overshadowed by the decision to have team-mate Valtteri Bottas pull over to let him pass. Bottas started from pole and was in position for his first win of 2018 when the decision was made by the team.
Wolff insisted ahead of the Japanese GP that the tactic was justified.
‘The battle with Ferrari remains extremely close, as was underlined by Sebastian’s pace on Sunday and the pressure he put us under,’ Wolff said. ‘In the end, we left Sochi with a bigger lead. But we know that doesn’t mean anything because our fight with Ferrari is far from being over.’
Even if Vettel wins all five remaining races, he’s not guaranteed to beat Hamilton.
But Vettel, who has had his own success at Suzuka – winning four times between 2009 and 2013 – wasn’t about to concede the championship.
‘We need to keep pushing and try,’ the Ferrari driver said. ‘Who knows what will happen in the next races.’
The Brit sits in a Mercedes car as he makes his way around a track he has had great success on
Fans show their support for Hamilton as they prepare to watch the Brit in action this weekend
Hamilton looked happy to be back in Japan as he looks to put a tighter grip on the F1 title
Meanwhile, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will be looking to follow up on his impressive showing in Russia.
On his 21st birthday, Verstappen started 19th but charged through the field to finish fifth.
It was another dramatic drive from Verstappen, who over four seasons has firmly established himself as F1’s most aggressive and exciting racer, but has never had a car capable of a true title challenge.
Verstappen has fond memories of the Suzuka circuit, having made his F1 debut here by taking part in the first free practice at the 2014 Japanese GP.