In the wake of what he described as 'one of the worst weekends [he] can remember', Lewis Hamilton has conceded that his chances of clinching his second drivers' crown in F1 2010 have sunk to a new low, as he ruefully reflected that his title shot 'doesn't look good'.
It was, indeed, something of a nightmare weekend for Hamilton at Suzuka, with a heavy 'off' during practice on Friday morning leading to an almost complete lack of set-up time given the FP3 wash-out the following day, and a five-place penalty for a gearbox change leaving the McLaren-Mercedes star just eighth on the grid, behind all four of his world championship rivals.
A bright start, however, hinted at a change in fortunes – an overdue one, it has to be said, off the back of three failures to finish and therefore to score from the four previous grands prix – only for his replacement gearbox to similarly malfunction and restrict Hamilton to a distant fifth place at the chequered flag, needing to drive the latter stages with no third gear and able to use only fourth to seventh.
The 25-year-old confessed that having initially feared the worst – a fourth DNF from five races – he was grateful merely to make it to the finish line and pick up ten points for his troubles, but with Sebastian Vettel tallying 25 for victory, world championship leader Mark Webber 18 for second place, Fernando Alonso 15 for third and his own team-mate Jenson Button twelve for fourth, he is all-too-aware that the crown is slipping increasingly from his grasp.
“I'd definitely say it's been a weekend to forget” the erstwhile title favourite is quoted as having said by Reuters
, revealing that to add insult to injury over his Japanese Grand Prix weekend, he was suffering from an ear infection and had to endure the ignominy of being driven around the circuit in a 'ridiculous', 1950s open-topped three-wheeled Messerschmitt 'Bubble Car' during the pre-race drivers' parade. “It's probably been one of the worst weekends that I can remember.
“Not finishing the race in the previous ones was perhaps a little bit worse, but in terms of bad luck overall – the collective amount of bad luck – it's a bit unfortunate, this one. I can't imagine a weekend with more problems, to be honest.”
“I have no idea,” he continued, when asked about the championship now, sitting as he is some 28 points adrift of Webber. “[It] doesn't look good. I'm just thankful and so happy that I at least saw the end of the race – it's the first finish for a long time. You have to try and remain optimistic, but I didn't think it was going to make it, to be honest. The car was making a lot of noise, so I just kept my fingers crossed and tried not to make too many shifts and look after it.
“There are still three races to go and still 75 points available, but you know these guys (Webber, Vettel and Alonso) just continue to pick up points consistently, non stop. It will be very difficult, but we will keep pushing.”
The one tiny glimmer of light at the end of a miserable few days for Hamilton, was the confirmation from McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh that the successive gearbox issues would not lead to a further grid penalty in Korea next weekend, with the Englishman explaining: “It's not a problem for the next race. We've taken the penalty for this weekend, so we have a free gearbox change for the next race.”