Sebastian Vettel handed gearbox boost ahead of Japanese Grand Prix

October 04 09:45 2017

MERCEDES boss Toto Wolff admits they head to Japan scratching their heads over inconsistency.

Hamilton will start Sunday’s race, underway at 8am live on Sky Sports F1, 19 positions ahead of Vettel following a qualifying hour of unexpected drama at Sepang.

This is all a testament to the 118-point lead that Mercedes AMG possesses over Ferrari in the constructor’s championship, which might as well already be in the freight back to Brackley.

Formula One world champions Mercedes have some “real big problems” to fix with their auto, title favourite Lewis Hamilton said on Sunday after finishing second in the Malaysian Grand Prix. “If you’re one second off the pace it’s not nice and it definitely is stressful”.

On paper it should suit them again, but there is also an air of uncertainty with Red Bull very much in the mix after Max Verstappen’s victory at Sepang.

“It’s just so painful”.

“I feel good but I think we’ve got some work to do with the auto”, he said.

“We need to understand why we underperform on certain circuits and in certain ambient conditions”.

In the recent weeks both Ferrari and Red bull has picked up the pace specially Daniel Riccardio who has been consistently taking podium finishes and gave Rosberg a decent fight towards the end of the race.

With Vettel starting last, the onus of keeping Scuderia’s name in the limelight at Malaysia rested on Raikkonen.

Despite Hamilton’s pole position, Mercedes struggled all weekend with what team-boss Toto Wolff described as a “capricious” auto. Raikkonen was perfectly placed to help him, sitting ahead of both Mercedes cars on the grid.

Lewis Hamilton rode his luck for the second race in a row to stretch his world championship lead over Sebastian Vettel but said he fears a Ferrari backlash in Japan this week.

Vettel’s engine had been changed before qualifying after a similar gremlin in final practice Saturday only for the new unit to fail.

“We must not forget we are talking about the auto that leads the constructors championship and leads the drivers’ championship, it is not a lame duck”, he added. “Dipping in and out of the window is the fundamental story of 2017 for us”, the Austrian added.

Owned by the Honda Motor Company, Suzuka represents a different challenge, with more high-speed corners than Sepang and high levels of tyre wear and degradation expected. How can we fix our issues?

Red Bull have really stepped up their game in the last race and coming here, said Hamilton.

Mercedes were slower than Ferrari and Red Bull for the second successive race in Malaysia after similarly struggling for pace in Singapore.

“We have lost so much pace this can a vehicle that is so fast on many circuits lose so much with a tyre that is overheating?”

Verstappen overtook pole-sitter Hamilton on lap four.

Hamilton said he had made his theories for how Mercedes could be more competitive at Suzuka clear to the team. “There was nothing I could do”.

By the 26th lap, Vettel had climbed up to fifth spot and was closing in on Bottas. I didn’t sleep very well last night as we didn’t know if we would fix the issue. Hamilton himself described the struggles over the weekend as “just not acceptable at this great a team”, and Wolff was moved to remind everyone of how strong the vehicle has been at times. Perhaps Vettel would have limited that overachievement to second place had he been able to take part in qualifying, but the gap to a struggling Valtteri Bottas confirmed it.

Malaysian F1 Grand Prix 2017 Qualifying: Results, Times from Friday's Practice

Sebastian Vettel handed gearbox boost ahead of Japanese Grand Prix
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