Hamilton admits title chase now a 'tough one' after 'bad weekend'

Former champion 'happy to finish' after suffering broken gearbox and ear infection / Button again criticises tyre strategy

Can McLaren's troubled situation be rescued in time for Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button to stay in the world championship title fight?

That was the million-dollar question people were asking after the Japanese Grand Prix yesterday, with the McLaren pair now trailing Mark Webber (220), Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel (206 each) with 192 and 189 points respectively.

"I have no idea," Hamilton admitted candidly after yet more gearbox troubles had restricted him to a fifth-place finish behind Button, as the Red Bulls comfortably dominated the race ahead of Alonso's Ferrari. "Your guess is as good as mine. But if it's statistically possible, then I guess it's realistically possible."

Hamilton is a fighter who always talks a good game even in adversity, and adversity didn't come much greater than in Suzuka this weekend. But he paused a moment as reality sank in, and did the mental arithmetic. "I'm now 28 points behind," he said. "It's a tough one. And it's not looking great. But it's still possible, I can still can do it with 75 points available. But if they finish all the races as they have like this, then it's a walkover."

Alonso had said that he could win the title merely by finishing on the podium in the remaining three races. Hamilton smiled at that one. "Wins will get it for us," he replied quickly, as if going for podiums was anathema to him. "If the others have problems..."

Suzuka was a weekend from hell for him that began with the shunt on his second flying lap in Friday's first practice sessions and continued with the rain that delayed qualifying until Sunday morning, then a gearbox problem that resulted in the need for a new unit and cost him third place on the grid. And as if that wasn't enough, his replacement gearbox lost third gear around lap 38.

"If we hadn't had to change the gearbox, I think we would have been in the top three for sure, if not challenging for the win with the pace we seemed to have," he suggested. "And if we hadn't had a gearbox problem in the race I reckon I would have been competing with Webber.

"Actually, I didn't think I was going to finish, with the problem. Just before Jenson's pit stop I lost third gear. I changed up from second in the hairpin and it just churned. I thought the whole box had gone but I got fourth gear, and for rest of race I could use only fourth to seventh. But my mood? I'm just happy to get through the race. I needed to finish a race, after three non-finishes in the last four. I was lucky it's a high-speed circuit, so I didn't need the low gears."

Compounding Hamilton's problem, he was suffering an ear infection throughout the meeting. "I've had bad weekends," he conceded, "but nothing overall as bad. This is the worst of all of them. The infection affected my balance a bit, left me deaf in the left ear so I couldn't use the ear plug and had to use a cotton wool bud instead. It was bruised and I couldn't hear a thing. Then both ears blocked in the race.

"I don't know what I have been kicked around by, but I have definitely had a tough one. Unbelievable, just unbelievable. It's been one of those character-building times that people talk about, whatever that means!"

Button once again questioned his team's tyre strategy after qualifying on the harder Bridgestone compound. "I thought the others would struggle on the options at the start of the race, but they didn't," he said. "I wasn't really able to push Fernando, and I had Lewis right behind me.

"We need to look at the data but to stay out when everyone else pitted was probably the wrong thing. Maybe you should cover the people that you are racing and we didn't do that. At the end of the race when we did put the option on, it was great. The car had a lot of grip and I was very fast. But we weren't quick enough to beat the Red Bulls."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015