SUZUKA, Japan, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Despite deposing Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg as Formula One leader, Lewis Hamilton still sees himself as very much the hunter rather than the hunted as he chases a hat-trick of victories in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Hamilton took a three-point lead in the standings after winning in Singapore last month while steering wheel problems forced Rosberg’s retirement.
With five races to go, and double points on offer in the finale in Abu Dhabi, the title duel between the two is wide open even if Hamilton now has the momentum.
“I don’t think in my head that I am leading the championship,” said the Briton after celebrating his seventh win of the season.
“I still feel that I‘m 20 points behind or whatever. I still feel like I‘m chasing. I still feel like I‘m hunting so that’s a good feeling.”
Hamilton has won the last two races from pole position, and also set the fastest lap but the 2008 world champion, who last led the championship in May after a run of four straight wins, knows just how quickly things can change.
Reliability is the key now, with any retirement potentially a title-wrecker, but the Briton is not planning on doing anything differently.
“No, this is game time,” Hamilton said when asked whether he might drive more defensively.
”I‘m really just going to try and do the same things I did this last two weekends which is really just attacking every practice session, hope that we have clean weekends, getting those poles and getting those wins in.
“I want to make sure these next five races, if I don’t do any more races in my whole life as good, these next five races have to be the ones.”
Neither Hamilton nor Rosberg have previously won at Suzuka -- one of the sport’s great circuits with its fast and challenging figure of eight layout.
Hamilton won the Japanese Grand Prix in his rookie year in 2007 but that race was held at the Fuji circuit and his best result at Suzuka remains a third-place for McLaren in 2009. Rosberg has never finished higher than fifth.
The circuit has been one of Red Bull’s favourite stamping grounds, with Sebastian Vettel winning four of the last five races there. The German also clinched his second world title at the circuit in 2011 with a drive to third place.
While Vettel has yet to win this season, the reigning champion arrives on the back of his best result of the campaign with a second place in Singapore.
However, Red Bull, who need at least three points to prevent Mercedes taking the constructors’ title on Sunday if the leaders finish one-two, recognise Mercedes are still the favourites.
Suzuka also holds a special place in the heart of McLaren’s Jenson Button, who won in 2011 and whose fashion-model fiancée is half-Japanese.
“Coming to Suzuka feels like a second home race for me,” said Button, who failed to finish in Singapore and whose team have not won a race since his last victory in Brazil in November 2012.
“Suzuka will be a tricky one for us, but I‘m still really looking forward to it,” the Briton said. (Editing by Alan Baldwin/John O‘Brien)