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Hamilton ‘excited’ for Japanese Grand Prix as Mercedes fined over Russell-Piastri Q1 incident

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Lewis Hamilton was left raring to go after qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix, with the seven-time world champion “excited” about the progress made by Mercedes on the set-up of the W15.

After a solid performance by the team in Friday’s Free Practice 1 session, their pace looked to have dropped off slightly on Saturday, with Hamilton ending qualifying in P7. While he admitted that he wasn’t entirely pleased with his grid slot, the Briton added that the weekend had been positive so far for the squad as they look to close the gap to their rivals.

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“I’m naturally not happy with P7, of course,” Hamilton explained after qualifying. “There were a couple of moments where we were higher up. I was definitely hoping to potentially get a little bit closer, but it wasn’t meant to be.

“But I’m happy with just the way the weekend’s gone so far, in terms of the progress we made in set-up. [I’ve] been much, much happier to drive the car, we’ve really made an improvement in just the envelope that we have.

“However, we had an over-a-second deficit last year, and it is closer – seven-tenths, but we’ve still got a lot of performance to find.”

‘I’m excited!’ – Hamilton raring to go in Sunday’s race after making improvements to his Mercedes

Asked if this extra confidence gave him the belief that he could potentially take the fight to one of the team’s rivals on Sunday, Hamilton responded: “Yeah, I really do hope so. I think it’s going to be pretty close between us all. If you look at qualifying, it’s within half a tenth or whatever it is – the top seven or eight I think, it’s very, very close.

“I hope where I’ve put the car is going to be good in the race tomorrow and I think it’s going to be about management and strategy, pit stops, just maximising everything along the way, and hope we can leapfrog some guys up ahead.

AS IT HAPPENED: Follow all the action from qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix

“But I’m excited, I’m definitely more amped. I know we’re seventh, it’s not the greatest, but we can work from here.”

Russell will line up in P9 for the Grand Prix, a result that he acknowledged was perhaps the best that could be achieved on a track that – given its high-speed corners – is not totally suited to the W15.

‘High speed is our weakness’ – Suzuka just doesn’t suit our car, says Russell

“I think we did a great job in Q1, in Q2, pulled the laps together,” Russell commented. “But ultimately the car wasn’t as competitive here as it has been at other circuits, and we knew that coming into this race weekend.

“We’ve had three circuits in a row now that have been high-speed circuits and high-speed [tracks] are our weakness, and that’s just the nature of the calendar. We saw we were much more competitive in Bahrain.

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“On the face of it, the result is not great. The race will be a totally different story tomorrow, but we’re just going to have to keep on working away and see how we perform at a circuit that suits us a little bit better.”

Pushed on what he expects for Sunday given how tight the margins have been between the field so far, Russell answered: “Yeah, really tight. I think it’s going to be probably a two-stop race at least. It’s always high tyre degradation around here at Suzuka, so I think that gives you options with the strategy.

“But at the end of the day, it was so tight in qualifying, I expect a similar story tomorrow, so track position is probably going to be key.”

Meanwhile, Mercedes were on the receiving end of a €5,000 fine – but not a grid drop – after the stewards found that they’d unsafely released Russell into the path of McLaren’s Oscar Piastri in Q1.

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