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Hamilton to vie for third Japanese GP title

by Jim Armstrong

AP

Lewis Hamilton will be aiming to complete a hat trick of wins and extend his narrow Formula One championship lead over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix; a race that has been dominated by Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel in recent years.

With five races remaining, the gap between Hamilton and Rosberg stands at just three points after Hamilton recorded his seventh win of the season at the Singapore Grand Prix last month.

A win by Hamilton at the demanding Suzuka circuit would be a major step for the 29-year-old Briton toward a second championship.

Hamilton, however, has never won at the Suzuka circuit and will face a stiffer test than he did in Singapore, where Rosberg had to retire his car early due to an electronics malfunction.

“We have an exceptional car and I’m really hoping I’ll finally have my shot at the top step,” Hamilton said. “All the greats of Formula One have won at Suzuka since the sport first came there in the 1980s and I’m determined to add my name to that list this weekend.”

Hamilton did win the Japanese Grand Prix in his rookie year in 2007 but that race was at Fuji Speedway.

His best result at Suzuka was a third-place finish for McLaren in 2009.

At last year’s race, Hamilton started from third on the grid but retired after 10 laps due to collision damage.

Rosberg too has never won in Japan, with a career best of fifth.

The German driver looked in control of the championship two races ago but mistakes in Italy handed the victory to Hamilton and then he was left helpless by the malfunctioning steering wheel in Singapore.

“I’m looking forward to this weekend — particularly with the car we have at the moment,” Rosberg said. “It should give us a good chance to get a great result.”

Vettel has owned Suzuka in recent years and is coming off his best result of the campaign with a second-place finish in Singapore.

“Suzuka has been a very positive place for me in the past,” Vettel said. “I’ve won the race four times and I also won the World Championship there in 2011 which was a fantastic experience.”

Suzuka will also see Dutch teenager Max Verstappen, who turned 17 on Tuesday, become the youngest driver to take part in a Grand Prix weekend when he pilots a Toro Rosso in Friday morning’s opening practice session.

Another driver of interest is local favorite Kamui Kobayashi, who will keep drive this weekend for financially stricken Caterham despite the temptation for the team to give the seat to someone who can bring short-term sponsorship support.

Kobayashi claimed his first F1 podium finish here in 2012.

“I’m very excited to be back in front of all my Japanese fans and racing at Suzuka,” Kobayashi said. “I’ve been waiting for this race for over a year.”

There are some dark clouds on the weather front. A powerful typhoon is approaching Japan and is projected to hit the region on race day Sunday.