Hamilton: Red Bull hard to beat
Lewis Hamilton has admitted Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel will be hard to stop in the championship fight now after their Suzuka masterclass.
Although points leader Fernando Alonso's second first-corner retirement in four races meant Hamilton's fifth-placed finish in the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka saw him move ten points closer to the Spaniard - his deficit now a far from insurmountable 42 points - the overall momentum has now firmly swung towards Sebastian Vettel after the German romped to his second win in as many weeks.
Having cut the Ferrari driver's once 40-point advantage to a mere four points, Vettel is poised to take over the lead of the standings next weekend in Korea and, in turn having finished a mammoth 46 seconds adrift of the Red Bull driver on Sunday, Hamilton hinted that his chances of a second title were fast fading.
"I'm quite a realistic person so I know my situation, but I'll never give up - I'll keep pushing," Lewis told Sky Sports F1's Natalie Pinkham when asked if he thought there was everything to play for in the championship.
"We've had some strong results, Jenson did a good job today. I think with a bit of a better qualifying we would have had a better result.
"But the Red Bulls are going to be hard to beat."
Despite appearing to have similar pace to Red Bull on Friday, McLaren gradually slipped away from their rivals as the weekend progressed and lined up only eighth and ninth on the grid while the World Champions locked out the front row.
Hamilton, who admitted he had gone the wrong way on set-up ahead of qualifying, spent much of the race in battle with Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez and Kimi Raikkonen. Asked if he had got the most out of his car after beating the latter to fifth, the 2008 World Champion replied: "I did, I did.
"I was quite happy with my race, to be honest. I was able to look after my tyres quite well and had quite a long first stint. It wasn't particularly exciting but I got everything I could out of the car."
However, Hamilton admitted that the team needed to get to the bottom of why his MP4-27 continued to handle inconsistently in race conditions after he dropped off the leading pack in the opening stages in particular.
"They [the tyres in the second stint] weren't going off, I was still fine. The lap that I came in I was half a second up and I said to the team 'my tyres are fine, my tyres are fine, I want to continue' but they wanted to bring me in," Hamilton explained.
"It was obviously the right call. We had a good battle with Kimi in the first corner, the guys did a fantastic job in the pit stops, just a little bit strange car behaviour this weekend.
"I had this amazing understeer through qualifying and then today was exactly the same. I thought with the wind direction it would change but it started exactly the same as in qualifying so that's why I was falling back from the group, I wasn't quick enough.
"Then all of a sudden I had this thud on the rear, lap 20 something, and all of a sudden the car started turning and then after that I was able to push. So I don't know why that was and we have to analyse and find out why."
His team-mate Jenson Button, having dropped to eighth on the grid after a gearbox penalty, fared slightly better on Sunday and challenged Kamui Kobayashi for the final podium place after taking advantage of the chaotic first corner.
Although admitting that McLaren "didn't really have the pace in the race", Jenson expressed hope that Red Bull's Suzuka advantage wouldn't be repeated on the same scale elsewhere - although too conceded that the reigning Champions were looking ominiously strong.
"They're a little bit quicker than what we thought, but they're always quick here," Button said. "Last year you'd say they weren't as quick as normal and that's the reason why we could fight for the win. But this is for some reason always a Red Bull circuit.
"So we've got to hope for some reason this is a standout race for them, but I'd be surprised. They're going well, they're doing a good job and getting both cars on the front row proved that yesterday."