SETTING THE PACE IN MALAYSIA:: Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg hopes to extend his championship lead at the 2016 Malaysian GP. Image: AP / Vincent Thian
Malaysia - Rainy weather may be the only thing that can stop Mercedes from clinching a third straight Formula 1 Constructors' title at this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix (September 1 - October 2), as new championship leader Nico Rosberg seeks to capitalize on his current edge over team mate Lewis Hamilton.
Mercedes has won all but one race this year - when the team mates took each other out in a crash - and is now poised to seal the team championship with five races to spare. It needs to score only three points more than closest rival Red Bull, while preventing Ferrari from outscoring Mercedes by 22 points or more, in order to clinch the title.
Weather to be a factor
Thunderstorms are forecast throughout the race weekend, and the Malaysian race and qualifying have a history of being hit by heavy rain. That may give some encouragement to Red Bull and Ferrari that they can challenge Mercedes.
A resurfacing of the track will complicate matters for all teams, as their data from previous years on tyre degradation will be obsolete.
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Rosberg has won the past three races to turn a 19-point deficit to Hamilton into an eight-point lead. The tension between the team mates is spilling over from the track.
"We are pushing each other very hard on the race track and even off the race track," Rosberg said Thursday. "It's a great battle and everything counts, in many areas."
The German has never won on the sweeping turns and long straights of Sepang, but that should not be considered much of an omen, as he has recorded first-ever victories at five other circuits this season.
Turn of the tides
Hamilton's campaign has taken a turn for the worse after his own hat-trick of race wins in mid-season.
Hamilton said: "I've had ups and downs. I've had tough runs and I've had good runs, and it's not particularly any different to any of those. It's all about how you handle it, how you deal with it."
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His handling of it was commendable in the previous race in Singapore as he took a fighting third place despite a weekend of technical setbacks.
However, Hamilton hinted at some discontent at Thursday's press conference. Asked about alterations to the set-up of the car in recent races, he said: "If something changes when it doesn't need to be changed, it can have all sorts of effects.
"There's other things in the background which they (the team) can apply more effort to, but that's internal stuff."
Mercedes favours both
Team management was staying neutral in the title fight between the Mercedes pair, and Hamilton said there had been no efforts to buoy his spirits following the recent championship turnaround.
Hamilton added: "The team doesn't have anything to say to me because we're embarking on the team championship, which is what they care about. Me and the (drivers') world championship are not really their priority in a sense."
READ: Hamilton, Rosberg to finish season with 'faulty' clutch
McLaren driver Jenson Button will make his 300th race start this weekend, joining Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello as the only men to reach that milestone.
Button said: "When I started in 2000, I remember speaking to my Dad, and he said, 'How long do you think you'll race for?' and I said, 'I'll be done by the time I'm 30, and here I am at 36. It definitely sucks you in, F1, and it doesn't let go for a long time."