By Alan Baldwin
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – Mercedes can celebrate their second successive Formula One constructors’ title in Russia on Sunday but Niki Lauda fears they could be forced to wait.
Mercedes chalked up a dominant one-two in Japan last month, with Lewis Hamilton leading home Nico Rosberg, after being strangely eclipsed on the slow and twisty Singapore street circuit.
They need to score just three points more than Ferrari in Sochi to retain the title they won at the inaugural Russian race last year with a one-two flourish.
But Lauda, the retired triple world champion who is now non-executive chairman of the Mercedes team, feared Sunday could be more like Singapore than Suzuka.
“We have to say thank God we came out of the Singapore trauma and we are back,” he said after the team’s normal performance returned in Japan.
“My worry is that the next race is Sochi which is a Singapore-type of asphalt, so it’s not done and not that easy.
“We have to work hard and stay competitive and then we are looking good. But you only look good when it’s done,” added the Austrian.
Mercedes have a lead of 169 points over Ferrari with five races remaining, and a maximum of 172 will be still up for grabs after Sunday.
Hamilton has a 48-point advantage over Rosberg in the driver’s championship, so nothing can be decided there yet.
He made his mark on Sochi last year by lapping fastest in all three practice sessions, taking pole position and leading from lights to chequered flag.
That means the Briton is still the only driver to have led a lap at the circuit winding its way around some of the 2014 Winter Olympic venues.
“It was great to win the first race for Formula One in Russia and a fantastic moment for the team to take the title there last time out,” said Hamilton, winner of eight races so far this season.
“Fingers crossed we can add to those great memories again this weekend — I’ll be pushing as hard as I can to make that happen.”
Rosberg has all the statistics against him, given that no driver has ever failed to take the title with such an advantage and so many wins as Hamilton, but he has vowed to push as hard as ever.
“I’m not backing down in my fight for the championship,” said the German. “We have five races to go and, although the championship gap to Lewis is quite big, in my mind it’s definitely not over yet.”
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the winner in Singapore, will be hoping to postpone Mercedes’ title celebrations but the local crowd will be hoping Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat can also put himself in the mix after finishing second in Hungary in July.
Red Bull have been making more headlines off the track than on it this season, thanks to increasing concern about their 2016 engine supply and fears the team could quit altogether, but Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo have both been on the podium.
“The atmosphere last year was fantastic, there were so many fans giving me support. It really feels awesome to be there,” said the Russian. “I’m happy to have the attention, it gives you a bit of a lift.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)