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Lewis Hamilton given five-place grid penalty for Bahrain Grand Prix after gearbox change

Hamilton blow as Mercedes star is hit with five-place grid penalty after gearbox change

By
Ian Parkes, Press Association

PUBLISHED:

10:06 GMT, 20 April 2013

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UPDATED:

11:12 GMT, 20 April 2013

Lewis Hamilton has been slapped with a five-place grid penalty for tomorrow's Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Mercedes driver was forced to change his gearbox after this morning's final practice session following a suspension failure on his in-lap.

As a consequence of changing the left-rear corner of the car, the team have also had to replace the gearbox, resulting in the grid penalty.

Blow: Lewis Hamilton hit with five-place grid penalty after gearbox change

Blow: Lewis Hamilton hit with five-place grid penalty after gearbox change

Blow: Lewis Hamilton has been hit with a five-place grid penalty

Although on pole position a week ago
in China, from where the 28-year-old finished third, balance issues have
affected Hamilton so far this weekend at the Bahrain International
Circuit.

Hamilton finished fifth quickest in final practice, just over two tenths of a second behind Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.

Hamilton is the third driver to face a
penalty for tomorrow's race as Mark Webber was handed a three-place
drop after colliding with Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne in Shanghai.

Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez will also
drop five places following qualifying after he ran into the back of
Force India's Adrian Sutil in the same race.

Drama: The British driver suffered a suspension failure in this morning's practice session

Drama: The British driver suffered a suspension failure in this morning's practice session

Lewis Hamilton

Alonso, on the back of his
31st-career victory in China last Sunday, has been highly impressive
around the desert-based Bahrain International Circuit and was fastest this morning.

With a high police presence around
the track as local authorities are determined to keep anti-government
protesters at bay, Formula One is virtually oblivious to what goes on
away from it.

On the circuit, Alonso led a
tightly-bunched field, with the top six separated by just two tenths of a
second, and the front nine by half a second.

Alonso, last on pole in Germany last
year, set a lap of one minute 33.247secs which was almost a second
quicker than the leading time of yesterday posted by Lotus' Kimi
Raikkonen.

As in second practice, the Red Bull
drivers had to settle for second and third on the timesheet, on this
occasion with reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel ahead of Mark
Webber.

Vettel, who finished 0.101secs behind
Alonso and 0.032secs ahead of team-mate Webber, had looked poised to
snatch top spot from Alonso as he posted personal best times in the
first two sectors, only to be blocked by a Caterham.

Leading the way: Fernando Alonso was fastest in this morning's practice

Leading the way: Fernando Alonso was fastest in this morning's practice

Raikkonen was down in fourth,
0.199secs adrift, with Hamilton an improved fifth and 0.208secs down
after complaining of balance issues yesterday.

Behind the 28-year-old were Lotus'
Romain Grosjean, appearing more comfortable with the new chassis given
to him this weekend, followed by Force India pair Adrian Sutil and Paul
Di Resta.

Mercedes' Nico Hulkenberg was ninth quickest, 0.517secs off Alonso's pace, with Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg completing the top 10.

Out of sorts: Jenson Button was off the pace in 12th

Out of sorts: Jenson Button was off the pace in 12th

Felipe Massa inexplicably now finds
himself struggling for pace as the Brazilian, quickest in first
practice, was languishing in 11th at the end of FP3 and 0.702secs behind
team-mate Alonso.

As for McLaren, their struggles
continue with Jenson Button and Sergio Perez 12th and 13th, the latter a
full second behind Alonso.

Towards the rear, Marussia also face
issues as Max Chilton managed just seven laps due to the team having to
replace the KERS water pump.

Chilton, however, was not last as
that position belonged to Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez who concentrated on
a long run, completing 28 laps overall, but finishing 6.345secs down.

Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso wary of Lewis Hamilton title challenge

Don't rule Lew out! Vettel and Alonso still wary of Hamilton challenge

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UPDATED:

10:29 GMT, 11 October 2012

Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso are refusing to write off Lewis Hamilton's chances of snatching the world title from their respective grasps.

The Red Bull driver and his Ferrari rival arrive at this weekend's Korean Grand Prix separated by just four points following Vettel's win in Japan and Alonso's failure to finish.

Hamilton lies fourth in the standings, 42 points adrift of Alonso, but could have been so much closer had his gearbox not failed while he was leading in Singapore.

Still in the hunt Hamiton's opponents are still wary of the threat he poses

Still in the hunt Hamiton's opponents are still wary of the threat he poses

The McLaren driver has played down his chances of landing his second title before he departs for Mercedes at the end of the year, and needs to turn around a difficult Suzuka weekend, where he finished fifth, if he is to keep himself in the frame over the final five races of the season.

But Alonso and Vettel are not of the opinion that they are locked in a private battle for the championship.

Vettel said: 'I think they (McLaren) are still fighting for the championship. I think that is their target, or has to be their target.

'I think if you look at the races we had after the summer break, so far, if you summed them up, on average I think McLaren was the most competitive car.

Respect: Vettel and Alonso have sung Hamilton's praises

Respect: Vettel and Alonso have sung Hamilton's praises

Respect: Vettel and Alonso have sung Hamilton's praises

'They are the ones which will be very competitive, no matter where we go, at least that's what the last couple of races showed. I think they still have a good chance.'

Alonso added: 'I think it is more difficult for him as it is not only one driver ahead that you need to take some points off.

'We are now two drivers with more or less the same points ahead and he is behind, so for sure the chances for him are a little bit lower.

'But if we see the form of McLaren and Lewis before Suzuka there is still plenty of time and points to do it, he still has the possibility.'

Japanese Grand Prix 2012 live: Follow the F1 drama

LIVE: Japanese Grand Prix – follow all the Formula One drama from Suzuka

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UPDATED:

06:59 GMT, 7 October 2012

Phil Duncan F1 blog

The Formula One circus has parked up in Suzuka this weekend for the Japanese Grand Prix. It's round 15 of the world championship and with five races remaining both the drivers' and constructors' titles are still very much up for grabs.

Make sure you don't miss any of today's action by following our dedicated coverage. And you can join in on Twitter, or by sending an email to [email protected]

Click here to follow our dedicated Formula One service on TwitterJapanese Grand Prix: Lap 33 of 53
Sebastian Vettel leads from Felipe Massa
Fernando Alonso has retired after a first-lap collisionJenson Button is fourth but nursing a gearbox problem
Lewis Hamilton is sixthRomain Grosjean handed a stop-and-go penalty for crashing into Mark Webber on the first lap

Lap 31: Button's slowly been reeling Kobayashi in and the Sauber man comes in for his second stop of the day. He's joined by Hamilton and Hulkenberg. Hamilton leaves the pits alongside Raikkonen. The Lotus ace looked to have sealed the move but Hamilton came back at Raikkonen. Great driving from the pair of them to avoid a high-speed crash.

Lap 30: What a story it would be if Kobayashi earns his first podium in Japan. The home fans absolutely adore him here.

Lap 29: Vettel is absolutely cruising here. He's maintaining a ten-second gap to Massa, who looks poised to end his barren-podium run… 36 races in fact.

Lap 28: Button is told his pace is encouraging as Grosjean sets the fastest lap of the race.

Lap 27: Schumacher, a six-time winner around Suzuka, plants a move down the inside of Di Resta into Turn 1 to take tenth after starting 23rd. A very solid show from the veteran today.

Lap 26: Webber, struggling with his rear tyres, pits from P9.

Lap 25: As we approach half-distance here's a run down on the top 10: Vettel leads from Massa, Kobayashi, Button, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Hulkenberg, Maldonado, Webber and Ricciardo.

Lap 24: Vettel leads Massa by 10 seconds with the Ferrari driver three seconds ahead of Kobayashi. Hulkenberg is complaining about his rear tyres, but that aside and it's another strong performance from the German today.

Lap 23: Sportsmail's Simon Cass: 'Kobayashi and Massa, two drivers who need to get their contracts sorted out are doing the business today. Just saying…' Indeed, Massa is second and Kobayashi, without a podium in his career, is third.

Lap 22: Hamilton is moaning about his front tyres, saying they've 'gone off'. The McLaren man is in P6 and coming under pressure from Hulkenberg.

Lap 21: Button reporting yet more problems with his gearbox. Up top and Vettel is cruising here. Massa, who hasn't finished on the podium since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix, is the fastest man on track in P2, as Bruno Senna comes into the pits for his drive-through penalty after being punished by the stewards for his first-lap misdemeanour.

Lap 20: 'Debate as to whether this will be a two or three stopper,' says Sportsmail's Simon Cass. 'If any one team can make the tyres last then it is Sauber. A Kobayashi win on home soil The place would go bonkers.'

Lap 19: Hero to zero for Perez in Suzuka as the Sauber man retires from the race.. Eyeing another move on Hamilton, the Mexican lost control of his Sauber under braking before almost hitting the McLaren and then spinning out of the grand prix.

Lap 18: 'I've got a problem with the gearbox,' Button says before being reassured by the McLaren pit-wall. The British driver then posts the fastest lap of the race. We'll keep an eye on that one.

Early bath: The Spaniard gets a lift back to the paddock after crashing out

Early bath: The Spaniard gets a lift back to the paddock after crashing out

Lap 17: Vettel and Massa pit from P1 and P2, and they exit the pits in P1 and P2. Massa has gotten the jump on Kobayashi and Buton.

Lap 16: Hamilton is into the pits as Kobayashi and Button are held up by the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo. This is playing into the hands of Felipe Massa, who's yet to stop. Could the Ferrari man leapfrog the pair of them

Lap 15: Raikkonen, after his stop, leapfrogs Jean-Eric Vergne and then Heikki Kovalainen. Meanwhile, Sergio Perez pits, but he exits the pits behind the Lotus of Raikkonen. Vettel, who leads, is yet to pit. He's looking oh-so-comfortable today.

Lap 14: Kobayashi pits from P2 and the Sauber man, who is stationary for just 3.5 seconds, exits comfortably ahead of JB to maintain a net second.

Lap 13: Jenson Button comes into the pits from P3. The McLaren man is joined by Raikkonen and Hulkenberg.

Out of the race: Alonso retires after spinning out on lap one

Out of the race: Alonso retires after spinning out on lap one

Out of the race: Alonso retires after spinning out on lap one

Lap 12: The first-lap incident between Bruno Senna, who damaged his front wing, and Nico Rosberg, who has retired, is now under investigation. I'll keep you posted on that one.

Lap 11: The Saubers are looking very racy here. What a year they're having. Perez is closing in on fifth-placed Raikkonen while his team-mate Kobayashi is holding Button at bay.

Lap 10: Vettel leads comfortably from Kobayashi, with the Red Bull man lapping one second quicker than Kobayashi and Button.

Lap 9: Glum faces in the Ferrari garage. Alonso's been in control of the championship for a number of races now. But that's all set to change following today's retirement. Massa in the sister Ferrari is doing a decent job today. He's up to fourth after starting in P10.

Lap 8: Back up front and it's looking pretty tasty for Vettel who has built a five-second lead over Kobayashi. The Red Bull ace is the fastest driver on track right now. Meanwhile, Grosjean serves his penalty for wiping out Webber on the first lap.

Lap 7: Hamilton is under intense pressure from Hulkenberg, now. The Force India man just tenths behind the struggling Hamilton, Perez is now almost three seconds ahead of the man he's poised to replace in 2013.

Lap 6: There will be mixed emotions on the McLaren pit-wall there, as Sergio Perez plants a sweet move on Lewis Hamilton at the hairpin to move up into P6. Meanwhile, Grosjean has been handed a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for causing a collision on the opening lap.

Lap 5: Vettel leads by over three seconds with Button stuck behind Kobayashi – with Alonso out of the race, a victory for the German would see him move withing 14 points of the championship lead. Not a bad incentive, eh

Lap 4: We've seen a replay of the start and it looks as though Alonso squeezed Raikkonen out leaving the Lotus man no room before tagging the Spaniard. Alonso lost control of his Ferrari and was fortunate not to be collected by the rest of the field. Meanwhile, the replay also showed Romain Grosjean punting Webber at Turn 2. Another first-lap incident involving the Swiss-born Frenchman, and that incident is being looked at by the stewards. Webber is plum last.

Lap 3: The safety car is in and Vettel maintains the lead of the race. Perez takes a look around the outside of Raikkonen and drops a wheel on to the dirt before backing out of the move and loses his place to Hamilton – the McLaren man is up to sixth after starting in P9.

Lap 2: So, we're hearing that Kimi Raikkonen made contact with Alonso on the run down to turn 1. No replays as of yet. Vettel leads from Kobayashi, Button, Massa, Raikkonen, Perez and Hamilton, Safety car is in at the end of this lap. Frantic start.

Lap 1: Sebastian Vettel leads into Turn 1 but it's carnage behind the double world champion as a slow-starting Mark Webber is overtaken by Kamui Kobayashi before Fernando Alonso dips a wheel on to the dirt, loses control of his Ferrari and is out of the race. Jenson Button is up to third as Webber limps his way back to the pits. The safety car is out, I haven't seen the replay yet, but Nico Rosberg retires, too. Incredible.

7.00am: The tyre blankets are off and the cars have been lowered as all 24 drivers make their way on to the parade lap. We're just moments away from the start of the Japanese Grand Prix. Hold on to your hats….

6.55am: So, with five minutes to go until lights out in Suzuka, I'll give you a run-down on the top 10: Vettel starts on pole from Webber, Kobayashi, Grosjean, Perez, Alonso, Raikkonen, Button, Hamilton and Massa.

6.51am: Red Bull are strong favourites to dominate today's grand prix. Could it be another case of damage limitation for Alonso again He's been the master of it so far this season in a Ferrari which is arguably only the fourth-best car on the grid.

6.45am: Now, let's go down to the grid and grab a word with some of the drivers, starting with Webber, who starts in P2: 'We're normally pretty good on Sundays so we are confident we can do pretty well.' And on Kobayashi and Grosjean starting behind him: 'I've seen plenty of action before so nothing will surprise me.' And here's Button, starting in 8th after his penalty: 'It was always going to be disappointing whatever happened in qualifying. But looking at the timings on the long runs on Friday anything is possible.'

Adopted son: Button and his girlfriend Jessica Michibata ahead of today's grand prix

Adopted son: Button and his girlfriend Jessica Michibata ahead of today's grand prix

6.42am: Now over to Suzuka and a word from Sportsmail's motor racing correspondent, Simon Cass: This is what is known as a proper race. A proper track, fanatical fans and so often the place where championships are won and lost. That won't happen today but for anybody thinking Fernando Alonso has it in the bag just remember that with six races remaining in 2010 Sebastian Vettel cut a 31 point gap to then leader Lewis Hamilton. Vettel is currently 29 behind Alonso with the Red Bull looking to have found speed just at the right time. Set-up problems cost Hamilton yesterday and while this is a must win if he is to stand any chance of heading to Mercedes as world champion his chances of victory are very slim from ninth on the grid. Button starts one place further up but back-to-back wins in his beloved Japan is a real tall order.'

Waving goodbye: Schumacher, who announced his retirement on Thursday, waves to the Japanese Grand Prix fans

Waving goodbye: Schumacher, who announced his retirement on Thursday, waves to the Japanese Grand Prix fans

Farewell to the fairground: Hamilton and Rosberg will be team-mates at Mercedes next term

Farewell to the fairground: Hamilton and Rosberg will be team-mates at Mercedes next term

6.40am: Fernando Alonso, who leads Vettel by 29 points in the drivers' championship, starts in sixth, while the McLaren duo of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton will start a disappointing 8th and 9th respectively – the former taking a five-place grid drop after changing his gearbox.

6.37am: What of Vettel's challengers The Red Bull driver will be joined by team-mate Mark Webber on the front-row with home favourite Kamui Kobayashi starting in third. Incident-prone Romain Grosjean joins the Japanese star on the second row. Could we be in for some fireworks off the start-line

6.35am: And we should be in for a decent morning of racing shouldn't we The smart money is on Sebastian Vettel to win today's Japanese Grand Prix after the double world champion recorded the 34th pole position of his incredible career on Saturday. That takes the Red Bull man to third in the all-time list behind only Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna.

6.30am: Good morning everyone, and welcome to Sportsmail's coverage of the Japanese Grand Prix. For those of you based in Europe, I congratulate you for getting up nice and early this morning for round 15 of the 2012 Formula One world championship.


Full house: The Japanese Grand Prix is one of the most recognisable on the Formula One calender

Full house: The Japanese Grand Prix is one of the most recognisable on the Formula One calender

Jenson Button welcomes Sergio Perez to McLaren

Button presses claim for more titles as he welcomes new boy Perez to McLaren ranks

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 5 October 2012

Having taken on and beaten Lewis Hamilton last season, Jenson Button has already turned his attention to the challenge he will face from new boy Sergio Perez at McLaren.

'It made me smile because I love margaritas and sombreros,' quipped Button regarding the arrival of his Mexican team-mate for next season.

'There's a good picture of me somewhere wearing a sombrero and not much else!'

Main man: Jenson Button wants to push for more titles since the departure of Lewis Hamilton

Main man: Jenson Button wants to push for more titles since the departure of Lewis Hamilton

Speaking ahead of Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix – his chances of a second successive victory dented by a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change – Button is clearly anticipating some knockabout fun with Perez and hopefully more success after finishing ahead of Hamilton in last year's drivers' championship.

'For the amount of time I have spent with Sergio, he seems a funny guy and I like his attitude,' said Button.

Equally, however, Button is aware that making sure he is not eclipsed by the new arrival from Sauber is no laughing matter.

Being beaten by a world champion in the shape of Hamilton is one thing, losing out to a 22-year-old with only two years' experience is quite another.

'I think he is quick, intelligent and willing to learn,' said Button. 'Having just one experienced person in the team changes things but that is something I love. It is fun racing with new team-mates.

'He is inexperienced compared with Lewis and it will be his first year, but he will still be quick, I think.

'There should be more consistency in the following year but I will definitely be the person McLaren turn to if they want a world champion next year.'

I'm off: Hamilton left McLaren to join Mercedes

I'm off: Hamilton left McLaren to join Mercedes

Focus: Button is committed to taking the title again with McLaren

Focus: Button is committed to taking the title again with McLaren

Perez is likely to have his own thoughts on that while McLaren have vowed that their new driver pairing will enjoy equal status.

There is no doubt, however, that the greater responsibility to deliver race wins rests on Button's shoulders following Hamilton's switch to Mercedes.

It is a decision Button respects; after all, Mercedes were born out of Brawn with whom he won his title in 2009. Even so, he finds Hamilton's choice difficult to fathom.

'I am surprised he is leaving but we all have different things we want to achieve,' said Button.

'For Lewis, I think he feels he needs a new challenge and, fair enough, that is his choice.

'But for me, being at McLaren for three seasons, and nowhere near retiring or stopping racing for this team, puts a smile on my face.

'I love racing in Formula One and I am with a team that can fight for wins, unlike most others on the grid.

New kid on the block: Sergio Perez will leave Sauber to join Button at McLaren

New kid on the block: Sergio Perez will leave Sauber to join Button at McLaren

'I came in here not really knowing what to expect, coming to a brand new team after seven years racing for one team.

'I really had to find my feet again after being so long with one team.

'But I feel very at home here and I can't see me racing anywhere else in my career.

'I am looking to challenge everyone next year – not just Lewis.

'You always want to beat your team-mate, it is one of the most important goals for a Formula One driver. If you are alongside your team-mate going into turn one, you don't back out, you still give it your all.'

Now that Button feels he is the main man at McLaren he clearly has no intention of losing that hard-earned status to Perez, on or off the track.

Welcome aboard Sergio. You have been warned.

Track guide

Lewis Hamilton focus switches from Mercedes to Japanese Grand Prix

The gloves are off! Hamilton ready for first race since turning back on McLaren

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UPDATED:

08:49 GMT, 3 October 2012

In his first race since choosing to quit McLaren to join Mercedes next season, Lewis Hamilton must get his focus back on the Formula One championship fight at this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix.

Mercedes announced last Friday that Hamilton will replace seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher in a major shake-up that also sees Sergio Perez going to McLaren.

Hamilton has two wins and three non-finishes from his past five races, with that inconsistency leaving him in fourth place in the standings, 52 points behind Ferrari's Fernando Alonso with six races to go. He led the previous race in Singapore until he suffered a gearbox failure on lap 23 of 59 and had to retire.

End of an era: Lewis Hamilton will leave McLaren for Mercedes next year

End of an era: Lewis Hamilton will leave McLaren for Mercedes next year

'In terms of the championship, there's nothing to be really gained by analysing the points tables,' Hamilton said. 'From now on it's simply gloves-off. As in Singapore, I'll come out fighting, I'll just be hoping for a better result.'

Hamilton has spent his entire F1 career with McLaren – the team he first began an association with at the age of 13 – and won the 2008 title, but the team was unwilling to match a lucrative offer from Mercedes.

For Schumacher, Hamilton's move could mark the end of the most decorated career the sport has seen – and a three-year comeback that has seen him fail to replicate the success of his prime – although there is speculation the 43-year-old German could replace Perez at Sauber next season.

Despite the distractions, Schumacher said he was looking forward to the Japanese GP, a race he has won six times.

'My motivation is still very high after the news from last week, especially as Suzuka very clearly is one of the highlights in the calendar for me,' Schumacher said.

But Schumacher will be faced with a 10-place grid penalty at Suzuka for causing a spectacular crash with Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne during the Singapore GP.

Off track: Former world champion Michael Schumacher's time in F1 could be up

Off track: Former world champion Michael Schumacher's time in F1 could be up

Like Hamilton and Schumacher, Perez will be eager to get the focus back on the track after a disappointing result at Marina Bay where he finished 10th.

'After underperforming in Singapore, in Japan I am expecting our car to again be as good as it used to be and we should be strong in the high-speed corners,' the Mexican driver said.

Hamilton's McLaren team-mate Jenson Button won here last year and kept a pulse in his faint title hopes by taking second place in Singapore but will drop five places on the grid due to changing a gearbox.

It's the same gearbox problem that forced Hamilton to retire in Singapore. Hamilton will also get a new selector but escapes any penalty because he did not finish in Singapore.

Defending champion Sebastian Vettel won in Singapore, a result that allowed the German to replace Hamilton in second place in the standings, where he trails Alonso by 29 points.

The Red Bull driver has done well at Suzuka over the years, taking the checkered flag in 2009 and 2010 and finishing third last year to claim his second straight drivers' championship.

Jenson Button handed five-place grid penalty for Japanese Grand Prix

Button blow as Brit is handed five-place grid penalty for gearbox change

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UPDATED:

21:00 GMT, 1 October 2012

Jenson Button has been hit with a five-place grid penalty for this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix after McLaren were forced to change his gearbox.

The move was made following the discovery of the same fault which forced teammate Lewis Hamilton to retire from the lead of the previous race in Singapore.

Penalised: Button (left) finished second in Singapore

Penalised: Button (left) finished second in Singapore

Hamilton, who on Friday announced his decision to drive for Mercedes next season, will also be fitted with a new gearbox for Suzuka but escapes penalty as he failed to finish in Singapore.

Button, who won in Japan last year, trails Hamilton by 23 points and championship leader, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, by 75 with six races remaining.

Fernando Alonso warns Ferrari: I can"t win title if our car stays this slow

Alonso warns Ferrari: Our car is too slow to win the title ahead of Vettel and Hamilton

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UPDATED:

13:38 GMT, 25 September 2012

Fernando Alonso has told his Ferrari team they must step up their efforts if he is to win the drivers' title this year.

Alonso finished a creditable third in the Singapore Grand Prix last weekend, and could have been forgiven a grin within his helmet when he saw nearest championship challenger Lewis Hamilton retire early with a malfunctioning gearbox in his McLaren.

But the Spaniard has gone four races without taking the chequered flag, and with Red Bull's Vettel winning the Marina Bay night race, another formidable challenger replaced Hamilton in second place in the standings.

Concern: Fernando Alonso (right) is worried about the pace of his Ferrari

Concern: Fernando Alonso (right) is worried about the pace of his Ferrari

Third time's a charm: Alonso is hoping to win his first world title with Ferrari

Third time's a charm: Alonso is hoping to win his first world title with Ferrari

'In the end it went well but we definitely can't go on like this,' Alonso said.
'It can't always be the case that my closest rival retires, as has happened in the last two races, and we can't think of carrying on to the end of the season with qualifying sessions like (Saturday) when our performance was almost a second off the best.'

Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali agreed that improvement was necessary, particularly given the nature of the tracks in the remaining six races, with South Korea and Abu Dhabi requiring similar car set-ups.

'Clearly we need to make a step forward in terms of performance, because we cannot rely purely on the misfortune of others,' Domenicali said. 'Having said that, we mustn't over-react as it's better to bring a few updates that work rather than bringing too many. This is the area where we need to improve and it will be one of our priorities in the coming days.'

For Vettel, the Singapore win provided renewed hope of becoming just the third man – after Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher – to win three straight drivers' championships.

It was only his second win of the season, but with the remaining circuits tailored toward a more nimble car, and not requiring the outright speed the Red Bull lacks, the German now looms as Alonso's chief rival.

Looking dangerous: Sebastian Vettel won the Singapore Grand Prix

Looking dangerous: Sebastian Vettel won the Singapore Grand Prix

Title hopes: Lewis Hamilton stuttered in Singapore but is not out of the race

Title hopes: Lewis Hamilton stuttered in Singapore but is not out of the race

'It's looking better than before,' Vettel said. 'We have a lot of races left, the car seems to be competitive and we just have to use the momentum and keep pushing for these last races and see what happens.'

Hamilton's season is continuing on its feast-or-famine pattern, with his past five races yielding two wins and three non-finishes. The Briton was not distracted by ongoing rumors about the possibility of him leaving McLaren for Mercedes, and showed that by setting pole position and comfortably leading the race until the gearbox failed on lap 23 of 59.

That non-finish meant Kimi Raikkonen retained his third place in the standings, despite the Lotus driver not having won a race this season. No man has ever managed to take the title without winning a race, but if he keeps totting up the points while those above him fail, the Finn can keep his chances alive.

McLaren's Jenson Button kept a pulse in his faint title hopes by taking second place in Singapore, while Red Bull's Mark Webber is above Button in the standings but had another disappointing weekend, crossing the line in 10th and then being dropped out of the points to 11th as a penalty for an overtaking move off the limits of the track.

The next race is at Suzuka in Japan on October 7.

Lewis Hamilton handed 2m sweetener by McLaren

McLaren hatch 2m plan to lure Hamilton into signing new deal

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 24 September 2012

McLaren are pinning their hopes of persuading Lewis Hamilton to stay on a 2million sweetener and the belief he will not risk a move to under-performing Mercedes.

The improved and, in all likelihood, final offer from McLaren averages out at 12m a season over three years. It is still 3m down on his current deal, which expires at the end of the campaign and which Mercedes have already offered to match.

Out of luck: Hamilton was forced to retire from Sunday's race after a gearbox failure

Out of luck: Hamilton was forced to retire from Sunday's race after a gearbox failure

But Woking-based McLaren are confident that despite the wage cut, Hamilton will re-sign as early as this week. He has been impressed with the speed of his car this season and its development.

Yet Hamilton, 27, is very tempted by the prospect of working under Ross Brawn at Mercedes, the man who helped guide Michael Schumacher to seven world titles, and has received assurances the German team will get funds to become front-runners.

Time's up: Schumacher could call time on his second career in Formula One

Time's up: Schumacher could call time on his second career in Formula One

A meeting of the Mercedes board is due to take place on Wednesday and news that Schumacher will retire could follow.

Hamilton's managers, Simon Fuller's XIX Entertainment, insist their client will be the one to decide if he replaces Schumacher.

But there is a big disparity in the value McLaren place on Hamilton's image rights and the figure XIX believe they could generate should he move.

Hamilton is allowed only one personal sponsor – Reebok – by McLaren. At Mercedes, he could have a larger portfolio of sponsors.

It"s all tweet and sour for embarrassed Hamilton after Button eclipse

It's all tweet and sour for embarrassed Hamilton after Button eclipse

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 1 September 2012

Lewis Hamilton was forced into an embarrassing climb-down after taking to Twitter to vent his displeasure at being eclipsed by his team-mate Jenson Button, who produced a stunning qualifying display here to register his first pole for McLaren.

Hamilton, by contrast, had to be content with eighth, although he was promoted to seventh thanks to a five-place grid penalty for Mark Webber, after Red Bull were forced to replace his gearbox.

Climbdown: Lewis Hamilton made a bit of a twit of himself

Climbdown: Lewis Hamilton made a bit of a twit of himself

Blaming the decision to run an old spec rear wing for his lack of pace, Hamilton tweeted: 'Damn, WT F!! Jenson has the new rear wing on, I have the old. We voted to change, didn't work out. I lose 0.4 tenths just on the straight.'

Seconds later he added: 'Nothing I could do. Now it's about picking up every point I can from there. Jenson should win easy with that speed.'

Tweet surrender: Hamilton's tweets

Tweet surrender: Hamilton's tweets

Hamilton then tweeted that his use of the acronym 'WT F' had been a joke, claiming it was another example of Ali G style humour.

Given that the last time he tried a similar gag was his infamous, 'Maybe it is because I am black' gaff at the Monaco Grand Prix last year, Hamilton should have known better.

The fact his tweets were swiftly deleted suggested that someone at McLaren did not find the matter amusing, while they bore little resemblance to the team press release, in which Hamilton claimed the decision to run the old wing had been 'a collective choice'.

Pole star: Jenson Button

Pole star: Jenson Button

Speaking later alongside Button and McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, Hamilton claimed the disappearance of the tweets had been prompted by his desire to 'rephrase some things I said'.

Hamilton then professed his desire to do everything he can in today's Belgian Grand Prix to help his team-mate to victory.

The irony is that all the pre-race talk had been about Button becoming a support act to Hamilton, who he trails by 41 points.

While Hamilton was busy with Twitter, Button was sat in the top three press conference expressing his delight at finally hooking things up on a Saturday qualifying. 'This is close to winning a grand prix for me, it has been so long,' said Button who is competing in his 50th race for McLaren and whose last pole came in 2009 at the Monaco Grand Prix.

'Sundays have been good over the last few years, but Saturdays have not gone perfectly. I have a style which makes it difficult to make the car work in qualifying but, when it does, I get pole.'

Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber was second, but Pastor Maldonado of Williams was demoted from third to sixth for blocking Force India's Nico Hulkenberg.

Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel will start 11th, while Michael Schumacher was 13th in his 300th grand prix.

Sebastian Vettel no excuses after Belgian GP qualifying error

No excuses from Vettel after failure to qualify for top 10 at Spa

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UPDATED:

16:58 GMT, 1 September 2012

Sebastian Vettel could offer no excuses for a qualifying display that left him hurting more than a rare hit to his wallet.

On a disappointing day for the reigning double world champion, for only the third time in the last 65 races Vettel failed to qualify for the top-10 shoot-out.

Spa shock: Sebastian Vettel failed to break the top 10 on the grid

Spa shock: Sebastian Vettel failed to break the top 10 on the grid

Vettel could only manage 11th for Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, although a five-place penalty for Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber for a gearbox change means he will start 10th.

To add to the 24-year-old's frustration, five minutes before qualifying began he was fined 10,000 euros (8,000) for an illegal practice start in the pits during final practice.

Reflecting on gaffe: Vettel

Reflecting on gaffe: Vettel

Assessing his poor qualifying a year after winning this race from pole, Vettel said: 'Nothing went wrong. I didn't make a mistake and there was no real problem with the car, so obviously this hurts.

'Overall I was pretty happy with the lap I had, but the time didn't come, and now we'll have to see what we can do tomorrow.

'On this track it's definitely possible to overtake, so we're in a good position from that perspective, better than at other circuits.

'First of all the nature of the track works in your favour, that you are not entirely relying on the DRS zone to overtake. You can overtake in other places.

'It was comfortable here last year to overtake, and generally our race pace is better than in qualifying, so we should be fine.'

To aid Vettel's cause further, the top nine ahead of him are a mixed-up bunch, with Jenson Button on pole followed by Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi and Pastor Maldonado in his Williams.

As for his title rivals, Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen starts fourth, championship leader Fernando Alonso is sixth in his Ferrari, with McLaren's Lewis Hamilton seventh.

'It's a pretty surprising grid,' said Vettel. 'I was 11th in Q2 with Pastor 10th, only one hundredth (of a second) quicker than me. Then he went nine tenths quicker in Q3.

'For me I don't think it would have been possible to go nine tenths quicker with a new set of tyres.

'But despite my position the objective is still to win. Anything is possible.'

As to his fine dished out by the stewards, Vettel held his hands up, adding: 'My mistake. We practised a pit stop, you're not supposed to leave your box, and I left the box. I was probably trying to practice a bit too hard.'

In mitigation, the stewards took into account the fact the team and driver immediately realised their error, and the lollipop man who released Vettel was performing his role for first time.