Suzuka: Japan Formula One star Lewis Hamilton insisted “nothing has changed” despite his upcoming switch to Mercedes and vowed to fight for the title with McLaren, starting with this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.
The 27-year-old Briton, who has agreed a three-year contract with Mercedes starting in 2013, pledged to attack this year’s last six races as he bids to overhaul Fernando Alonso’s 52-point championship lead.
“Nothing has changed. Just as in Singapore, I’ll come out fighting at Suzuka and I’ll just be hoping for a better result next weekend,” Hamilton said.
“In terms of the championship, there’s nothing to be gained by analysing the points tables. From now on, it’s simply gloves-off! Bring it on!”
The 2008 world champion was the centre of attention at the last race in Singapore as speculation swirled over his team switch, and he will again be in the spotlight after confirming the dramatic move.
Hamilton has raced with the distinguished British team for his entire Formula One career but was lured to Mercedes by racing guru Ross Brawn and the prospect of greater freedom to pursue personal sponsors, according to reports.
The move has triggered a domino effect with seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher ushered to the Mercedes exit and Sauber’s Sergio Perez set to replace Hamilton at McLaren.
Hamilton showed his quality by storming to pole position in Singapore, and looked a certain winner as he led after 22 laps. But a gearbox failure put him out and allowed Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel to claim his second win this year.
Ferrari’s Alonso finished third and now sits on 194 points, ahead of defending champion Vettel on 165, Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen on 149 and Hamilton on 142.
Hamilton’s teammate Jenson Button will start with a five-place grid penalty for installing a new gearbox, but also said McLaren were in position to extend a record which includes three wins in the last four races.
“We go to Japan with a car that I feel convinced can fight for victory - it should be another good weekend,” said the Briton.
Meanwhile veteran Schumacher, 43, gave assurances he’s still motivated to finish the season in style despite his axing by Mercedes, a move that left his future undecided and could bring his racing career to an ignominious end.
“My motivation is completely intact after the news last week, especially because Suzuka is one of the season’s highlights for me,” Schumacher said.
The German, who has been linked with a move to Sauber or a Mercedes management role, admitted that a 10-place grid penalty for rear-ending Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne had left him with little chance of winning.
But he said he will be rekindling fond memories at Suzuka, where he ended Ferrari’s 21-year wait for a title by clinching the drivers’ crown in 2000.
“Of course, I would love to do something like that again, but it is not likely,” he said.
Ferrari number two Felipe Massa has also promised to put thoughts about his future aside after months of whispers that he could be replaced by the Italian team next year.
“Of course my future is important, but right now it’s the results that are the most important thing,” said Massa. “The best plan is to race without worrying about the future.”
Ferrari are understood to have cut their choice of drivers to partner Alonso next year down to three men: Massa and the two Force India men, Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Britain’s Paul Di Resta.
Massa, however, has raised his game in the last month. He finished fifth in Belgium, fourth in Italy and produced a strong comeback drive in Singapore to close in eighth after a first-lap puncture.
“I know what I can do, what I can give to the team and what are my talents,” said Massa. “The team also knows this, because I’ve been here with them for rather longer than a day or even a year! I have to concentrate on each race as it comes.”