Rosberg ready to ride his luck and end Hamilton hat-trick hopes

Nico Rosberg arrives at the classic ‘squashed figure-of-eight’ Suzuka circuit for this weekend’s potentially decisive Japanese Grand Prix knowing that, with luck on his side, he has a genuine chance to take another step towards his first Drivers’ World Championship.

The 31-year-old German was fortunate, as he admitted, to extend his lead to 23 points ahead of Mercedes team-mate and defending three-time champion Lewis Hamilton in last Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

But, as he pointed out before starting his bid to prevent Hamilton completing a hat-trick of Suzuka successes following his wins in 2014 and 2015, he believes luck evens itself out over the course of the season.

Briton Hamilton, also 31, should be forgiven if he disagrees. He was in dominant control of last week’s race when, with 15 laps remaining, his engine blew up and he had to retire – in the process handing victory to Australian Daniel Ricciardo ahead of his Red Bull Racing team-mate Dutch teenager, Max Verstappen.

Despite an opening lap tangle that dropped him to the back of the field, Rosberg finished third to turn a setback into a triumph. 

It was a massive blow for Hamilton who said he could not understand why it has been his misfortune to suffer a series of engine failures this year in a post-race outburst that brought Mercedes a pile of headlines they did not want.

Three days after the race, Mercedes were still locked in a search to explain why Hamilton’s season has been punctuated by problems that have not hit the other Mercedes-powered drivers.

"We will leave no stone unturned,” said team boss Toto Wolff, who added that he had no intention of gagging Hamilton to stop him speaking his mind in the emotional aftermath of a race.

"Every remark, every answer is allowed after such a frustrating moment," explained Wolff. "If you have the lead of the race, you're just about to get in front in the championship, your engine blows up and then you have a microphone put in front of your face…

"He's allowed to say whatever he wants. It's emotion and it's completely understandable, and each of us would have expressed this frustration in different ways.

"And there is no explanation…We came together afterwards and sat down and said 'how is this possible?'. It's a freaky situation that has no rational explanation. And I think after recovering a bit, he just sees that and that's okay. But in the heat of the moment - no problem."

Wolff has conceded Mercedes is letting Hamilton down. "This is a mechanical sport and these things happen,” he said. “It's a very unfortunate coincidence things have happened like this. For me, it's like six times red in roulette at the casino.

"I remember 2014, when Nico had a failure at the start of the last race – it’s frustrating when it comes at a crucial moment in the championship. We are letting him (Hamilton) down this year. It's him this time."

Hamilton remains convinced he could still overhaul the 23 points deficit in the final five races and keep his crown. “There is no use dwelling on these things,” he said. He added that he would “find the strength from within to fight back over the next five weekends…

“But at the end of the year, if the higher power does not want me to win and be champion, with everything I have given towards it, then I'll have to accept it.

"As long as I end the year knowing I've given it everything and I've done everything I possibly could do and we have done everything we can do, that's all you could ask for."

As always, Rosberg is taking it one race at a time without any fanfares, but both he and Hamilton hope for mutual team celebrations on Sunday by steering the Mercedes team to the constructors’ title.

That will be a bit of good news for the team as they lick their Malaysian wounds. “We are still investigating the issue with Lewis’s engine,” said executive director technical Paddy Lowe.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure that it is first understood and then contained for the remainder of the season. As it stands, despite the failure of that engine, Lewis now has the same stock of power units as Nico for the remaining five races - including used power units, which he can fit for free practice sessions.

"So, hopefully, there will be no further impact to his programme."

Although Hamilton was upset immediately after the race, Wolff said that things had calmed down following private talks with team management later on, which left him convinced the situation would not drag the team down.

"This team in the past has come out much stronger from these lows - like in Singapore last year, for example," he said. "And that was because we're sticking together.

"When he came back into the garage immediately, he went to every single mechanic to say how he felt. And then afterwards we had a discussion with him in a small group.

"We were just all really down from the incident and then we regrouped everybody, all mechanics, all engineers, and we had a chat to bring everybody up.

“And he said some great things about the team and hopefully that's going to make us recover quickly for Japan."

The focus may be on Mercedes again, but both an in-form Red Bull team and Ferrari will bid to stop them regaining their momentum on Sunday. 

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