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GP Week : Issue 103
McLaren says title challenge “still very much alive” ... MCLAREN team principal Martin Whitmarsh says there is “no reason” they can’t be still fighting for the world championship come the season- ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November, despite having lost yet more ground to title leaders Red Bull in Japan. With the MP4-25 noticeably lacking in pace to its main rivals Red Bull and Ferrari, Hamilton and Button went to Japan 20 and 25 points behind Webber in the championship, but left the land of the rising sun 28 and 31 adrift with just three races remaining. Having retired from the last two races, Hamilton endured the weekend from hell after a Friday morning crash, Saturday gearbox change and further gearbox woes on Sunday. He may have been able to challenge Alonso for a place on the podium but for the unscheduled gearbox change, having qualified ahead of him before taking his five-place grid penalty, and then had to relinquish fourth place to team- mate Button when he lost third gear with 16 laps to go. “This wasn’t a great weekend for me. I made a mistake on Friday, then we changed the gearbox yesterday and I got a grid penalty, and then I had another gearbox problem in the race,” recounted Hamilton. “ That’s an unfortunate amount of collective bad luck, but the team and I will bounce back. “ The championship doesn’t look great at the moment. But there are still three races to go and 75 points available, so we’ll remain optimistic and keep doing the best job we can. I’ll keep fighting.” Team-mate Button opted for a different strategy of qualifying on the hard tyre in the hope that those starting on the soft would struggle with degradation early in the race, but it never came to pass and the reigning champion had to make do with fourth after Hamilton encountered his problems. Although he thinks he should have pitted earlier to go onto the softs, he didn’t think it possible to catch the Red Bulls and Ferrari for a podium position. “At the start of the race, the drivers in front weren’t struggling on the Option tyre as much as we’d expected. So we were a little bit compromised, and I think we stayed out too long for our first stint,” opined Button. “As soon as we saw the others were quick on the Option, and I wasn’t able to pull a gap, or pressure anyone in front, maybe it would have been sensible to pit at that point and fit the Option. We’ll go away and look at the data, and the reasons for it. “I’m in the same championship position as I was before this race, so the title’s getting more difficult. We came here with a lot of different new parts – some of them worked really well, while others need a bit of work. We’ve just got to hope that when we put the new package on the car in Korea, we get the best out of it. For the next race, we’ll hopefully have the performance we’d expected to have here.” Despite his gearbox problems, Hamilton will not have to take another gearbox penalty in Korea, and team principal Whitmarsh insists their title challenge is “very much alive”. “For the final three races, we’ve got to make sure we have 100 per cent reliability,” said Whitmarsh. “Lewis finished this race 28 points behind the leader in the drivers’ championship, with Jenson trailing by 31. “ With 75 points to play for in the drivers’ championship, and 129 in the constructors’, our title challenge is still very much alive. We’ll keep on pushing and developing this car. There’s no reason why we can’t be fighting for the championship in Abu Dhabi.” ... but Hamilton and Button on back foot going to Korea 33 LEWIS Hamilton will not be forced to take a five-place grid penalty for the forthcoming Korean Grand Prix, although his new gearbox suffered a broken third gear during the Japanese Grand Prix. Hamilton incurred a five-place penalty for today's race after replacing the gearbox he used in Singapore for a fresh unit. However, because he used a replacement 'box for the race, a clause in the regulations allows Hamilton to begin a new four-race gearbox cycle in Korea, meaning he will start the weekend with a brand new unit. The clause was originally introduced to cut down on the number of gearboxes teams have to bring to races. Without it, teams would bring three gearboxes for each car (one for Friday practice, one for Saturday/ Sunday and one as a replacement), but teams now use the Friday gearbox as the replacement should the race gearbox be damage. Part of regulation 28.6 a) of the Sporting Regulations reads: “Should a driver use a replacement gearbox he will drop five places on the starting grid at that Event. ... Any replacement gearbox ... will only be required to complete the remainder of the Event in question.” Hamilton explained after the race that he was using only fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh gears in order to avoid the damaged third gear entirely and ensure he reached the end of the race. Even with this strategy he was unsure of reaching the flag however. “I was running normally, then downshifted into third, accelerated and lost the gear,” he explained. “After that, I had to rely on just fourth gear and above. I didn't think the car would make it – it was making a lot of strange noises, but I kept my fingers crossed, tried not to shift too much and looked after it to the flag. “I'm thankful and so happy that I least saw the end of the race – it's my first finish for a long time.” NO GEARBOX PENALTY FOR HAMILTON IN KOREA F1 SUZUKA >>