Suzuka is just one corner after another, says former racer turned commentator Martin Brundle. File photo:

Suzuka, Japan - Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team will be looking for lost speed as Formula One wraps up its Asian leg in Japan this weekend.

The championship leader is thankful to have extended his advantage over Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel to 34 points with five races remaining but he is also conscious that there is work to be done.

Mercedes was slower than Ferrari and Red Bull for the second consecutive race in Malaysia after similarly struggling for pace in Singapore. That represented unfamiliar territory for the reigning champion, even if it came away with a tidy points haul as Ferrari self-destructed.

Hamilton has won twice before at Suzuka, and three times in Japan when Fuji is included in the reckoning, while Mercedes is unbeaten there in three years. On paper it should suit them again, but there is also an air of uncertainty with Red Bull very much in the mix after Max Verstappen's victory at Sepang.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said: "There are a lot of question marks generally which we need to assess. We should have been quicker than we were in Malaysia but Suzuka should be much more in the window.

"I'm very much looking forward to Suzuka to see how the car behaves there because it should be completely different."

Ill at ease

In 2016 Hamilton arrived in Japan ill at ease and still feeling the agony of an engine failure at Sepang while leading from pole position - a blow that ultimately cost him the championship. He played around on Snapchat and then moodily refused questions from 'disrespectful' media who criticised his behaviour.

This time he is riding a run of good fortune, with an opening-lap crash for Vettel in Singapore dealing the German a significant setback in a race that Hamilton went on to win. In Malaysia he finished second after his rival raced to fourth place from last on the grid due to a power-unit problem in qualifying.

Vettel had a new engine for Sepang and he will expect to be quick on Sunday, with fears for his car's gearbox subsiding since he and Lance Stroll collided on the post-race slowing down lap.

"It's been a difficult weekend," he said afterwards, "but nevertheless the speed is there."

Resurgent Red Bull.

But both he and Hamilton also have to contend with a resurgent Red Bull. Former racer and television commentator Martin Brundle said: "Red Bull is right in it now. Think of Suzuka, it's just one corner after another. You always want power but Red Bull should be mighty in Japan."

Sunday's race will also be Honda's final home Grand Prix as power unit supplier to McLaren; Honda is set to tie up with Toro Rosso in 2018. McLaren heads into the weekend having chalked up its first consecutive points finishes of the season. A third race in the points this weekend, at a track owned by Honda, will see McLaren, which will switch to Renault power in 2018, equal its best consecutive run of top-10 finishes since joining forces with Honda.


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