Lewis Hamilton believes he has “less to lose” than his sole title rival Nico Rosberg as he wrestles to get his stuttering championship campaign back on track.
Hamilton has been cast eight points adrift of Rosberg after seeing his Mercedes team-mate clinch a hat-trick of consecutive wins – including a crushing victory last time out in Singapore.
While the Briton showed signs of a resurgence in the sweltering Malaysian heat on Friday when he clocked the fastest time in practice for Sunday’s grand prix, it would appear imperative for him to return to winning ways here with only six rounds left.
However, Rosberg won the opening four rounds of the season, while his latest run of victories has taken him to eight for the year. No driver has had such a record without going on to win the title.
“Perhaps when you are in the lead it can be more positive, but the downfall can be bigger,” said Hamilton, who was one quarter of a second faster than Rosberg on Friday.
“When you are behind you have less to lose, so the hunt is potentially more exciting, but I don’t find it harder in either scenario.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes team, who have triumphed at all but one of the 15 races so far this season, are set to clinch their third consecutive constructors’ championship.
And with the drivers’ title heading in the direction of either Hamilton or Rosberg, it was suggested to the British driver that Mercedes may relax their so-called “rules of engagement” – introduced after he and Rosberg crashed for a second time this season in Austria – for the final races of the season.
“We still don’t want the drivers to collide,” Hamilton dded. “There are other things in the background they could apply more efforts to.
“We can still go out and race, but just not collide.”
Hamilton, pictured, failed to trouble the top of the timesheets during an off-colour weekend in Singapore, so he will be buoyed by his display in practice at the Sepang International Circuit on Friday. The world champion’s best lap of one minute and 34.944 seconds saw him finish ahead of Rosberg with the Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen third and fourth respectively.
Max Verstappen celebrated his 19th birthday on Friday but the soaring Sepang heat appeared to take its toll on the teenager. He collapsed, off camera, at the back of the Red Bull garage shortly after the opening session with dehydration .
The Dutchman was soon back on his feet and posted the fifth best time in the afternoon running.
Kevin Magnussen and his Renault team were the talk of the pit lane earlier yesterday after his car caught fire following a fuel leak. As the Dane was being wheeled back into his garage, fuel started spilling out and caught fire.
Magnussen, the former McLaren driver, launched his steering wheel out of the cockpit before leaping out of the car. His Renault mechanics acted quickly to extinguish the flames and thankfully nobody was injured in the incident.
Jenson Button, who will become only the third driver in Formula One history to start 300 races, was 10th in the order, while British rookie Jolyon Palmer will be heartened by his performance after he finished 12th.