Hamilton closing on F1 title at Japanese GP
By JIM ARMSTRONG
(AP) -- Lewis Hamilton has won five of the last six Formula One races.
This week the series is in Suzuka, where Hamilton has won three of the last four Japanese Grand Prix.
With five races to go, his fifth world championship is almost in the bag.
"Lewis is hungry, focused, and completely determined to succeed," Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said on Thursday. "It's been great to see the power he has brought to this championship, and how he has taken it to the next level."
After winning the Russian GP last week, Hamilton leads Sebastian Vettel by 50 points.
Even if Vettel wins all five remaining races, he's not guaranteed to beat Hamilton.
But Vettel, who has had his own success at Suzuka - winning four times over 2009 to 2013 - was far from conceding the championship.
"We need to keep pushing and try," the Ferrari driver said. "Who knows what will happen in the next races?"
The race in Sochi last Sunday was overshadowed by Mercedes ordering Valtteri Bottas to pull over and let teammate Hamilton pass to win. Bottas started from pole and was in position for his first win of the year.
Wolff insisted the team order was justified.
"The battle with Ferrari remains extremely close, as was underlined by Sebastian's pace on Sunday and the pressure he put us under," Wolff said. "In the end, we left Sochi with a bigger lead. But we know that doesn't mean anything because our fight with Ferrari is far from being over."
Meanwhile, Red Bull's Max Verstappen remains one to watch, too.
On his 21st birthday, Verstappen started 19th in Sochi but charged through the field to finish fifth.
It was another dramatic drive from Verstappen, who over four seasons has firmly established himself as F1's most aggressive and exciting racer, but has never had a car capable of a true title challenge.
Verstappen has fond memories of the Suzuka circuit, having made his F1 debut here by taking part in the first free practice at the 2014 Japanese GP.
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Updated October 4, 2018