Lewis: 'Gloves off at Suzuka!'
MAKING FRIENDS IN JAPAN: McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton has vowed to fight for a McLaren title - but meanwhile plays socialite ahead of the 2012 Suzuka F1 GP. Image: AP
Author: Gordon Howard
SUZUKA, Japan - Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton has insisted that "nothing has changed" despite his upcoming switch from McLaren to Mercedes and vowed to fight for the title at this weekend's 2012 Japanese Grand Prix.
The 27-year-old Briton, who has agreed to a three-year contract with Mercedes starting in 2013, pledged to attack this year's last six races as he tries to overhaul Fernando Alonso's 52-point championship lead.
"Nothing has changed. Just as in Singapore, I'll come out fighting at Suzuka and I'll just be hoping for a better result," Hamilton said. "In terms of the championship, there's nothing to be gained by analysing the points tables. From now on, it's simply gloves-off! Bring it on!"
The 2008 World champion was the centre of attention at the previous race in Singapore as speculation swirled over his team switch; he'll again be in the spotlight at Suzuka after confirming the team change. He's raced for McLaren for his entire F1 career but was lured to Mercedes by racing guru Ross Brawn and the prospect of greater freedom to pursue personal sponsors, according to reports.
The move has triggered a small domino effect with seven-times World champion Michael Schumacher ushered to the Mercedes exit and Sauber's Sergio Perez given a team pass.
Hamilton showed his quality by storming to pole position in Singapore and seemed a certain winner before his gearbox failed after 22 laps and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel took is second win of 2012.
Ferrari's Alonso finished third and now sits on 194 points, defending champion Vettel has 165, Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen 149 and Hamilton 142.
Hamilton's team mate Jenson Button will start with a five-place grid penalty for installing a new gearbox but also said McLaren was in position to extend a record which includes three wins from the most recent four races. "We go to Japan with a car that I feel convinced can fight for victory -- it should be another good weekend."
Meanwhile veteran Schumacher, 43, gave assurances he was still motivated to finish the season in style despite his axing by Mercedes, a move that left his future undecided and could bring his racing career to an ignominious end.
"My motivation is completely intact after the news last week, especially because Suzuka is one of the season's highlights for me," Schumacher said. He's been lightly linked with a move to Sauber or into a Mercedes management role but admitted that a 10-place grid penalty for rear-ending Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne in Singapore had left him with little chance of winning.
He has fond memories at Suzuka, where he ended Ferrari's 21-year wait for a title by clinching the Drivers' crown in 2000. "Of course I would love to do something like that again, but it is not likely," he said.
Ferrari No.2 Felipe Massa has also promised to put thoughts about his future aside after months of whispers that he could be replaced in the Italian team next year. "My future is important but right now it's the results that are the most important thing," Massa said. "The best plan is to race without worrying about the future."
'I KNOW MY TALENTS'
Ferrari is understood to have cut its choice of drivers to partner Alonso next year down to three: Massa and Force India drivers Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Britain's Paul di Resta. Massa, however, has raised his game in the last month: he was fifth in Belgium, fourth in Italy and produced a strong comeback drive in Singapore to close in eighth after a first-lap puncture.
"I know what I can do, what I can give to the team and what my talents are," he said. "The team also knows this because I've been here with them for rather longer than a day or even a year! I have to concentrate on each race as it comes."