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Mercedes get it right at Suzuka, but are things about to go wrong?

Mercedes get it right at Suzuka, but are things about to go wrong?



Mercedes get it right at Suzuka, but are things about to go wrong?

Mercedes get it right at Suzuka, but are things about to go wrong?

The Japanese Grand Prix ended in celebration for Mercedes as their sixth-straight championship double was secured at the Japanese Grand Prix, but Lewis Hamilton's tempestuous day may raise cause for concern.

Hamilton came home third in Suzuka, securing a crucial bonus point for the fastest lap which sealed the constructors' title, with Valtteri Bottas' victory leaving him as the championship leader's only remaining rival mathematically for the individual crown.

The Briton is still 64 points ahead with just four races remaining and can be crowned champion for a sixth time in Mexico next time out.

But still, there is a nagging sense that things may not be all well with Hamilton and Mercedes, despite their latest title success and back-to-back race wins.

Those victories in Sochi and then in Suzuka had as much to do with Ferrari's failings than Mercedes' brilliance.

Bottas drove a brilliant race in Japan, but Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc's wretched starts played the major role in releasing the Finn into the lead off the line.

A third win of the season had much to do with Bottas' qualifying performance also. Having topped both of Friday's practice sessions, he kept up that form, in relation to Hamilton at least, to outqualify his team-mate for the first time in five races.

However, the Silver Arrows could not get the better on Ferrari in qualifying yet again, with Vettel taking the red car's fifth straight pole position.

If the 2020 campaign evolves out of the end of this one, then surely Mercedes' dominance will be under proper threat – but there are more direct concerns for the team, and its star performer.

Hamilton's race start in Suzuka was far from his best and he had lost a place to Max Verstappen off the line, only for the Dutchman to spin out after a collision with Leclerc.

That put Hamilton third, behind Bottas and Vettel, but making ground on the Ferrari proved difficult, although a one-stop strategy, compared to the two-stoppers those ahead had signed up for, offered a glimmer of hope.

But just four laps later, Hamilton was called in, reporting that his tyres were suffering. When the strategy to come was relayed to Hamilton, his reaction to race engineer Pete Bonington was telling.

PB: "So you're currently P3. Vettel 10 seconds ahead. Deg looks very high, so one stop will be a struggle. Let's chase Vettel down."
LH: "Valtteri, how far?"
PB: "Valtteri's nearly got a full pit stop."
LH: "How have I lost that much time?"
PB: "Deg is much higher, deg is much higher. And we lost time behind Vettel."
LH: "I'm out of the race now. If deg is that massive why didn't you give me hard tyres? Can you guys explain a bit please. I'm basically out of the race with a pitstop behind."

The request for hard tyres is particularly interesting. It was this move that helped Hamilton win the British GP with a one-stopper, when Bottas just lost too much time with an extra service.

Despite Hamilton holding the lead with 10 laps to go, and the order representing a result that would have secured the same glory for the team, he was called in.

Bottas clearly had Silverstone on his mind as well, when told Hamilton would pit again, he replied: "Are you sure Lewis is going to stop?"

He did stop, dropping from first to third and soon after picking up the fastest lap bonus point, perhaps throwing Bottas a bone, with the Finn having played the team game many times this year.

Despite the title success, his post-race reactions were decidedly sullen. Mexico will be a "nightmare" he said and refused to discuss his chances of holding off Bottas and Vettel if he had not stopped, perhaps not wanting to put his foot in his mouth.

In actual fact, the success of high-downforce packages at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez could well see some Silver Arrows success and Mexico has been the scene of Hamilton's coronation in each of the past two years.

There may well be champagne, celebratory t-shirts and record-breaking again in Mexico but things under the surface do not seem as they should in F1s most dominant force of all time.

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