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Hamilton fears slow starts will cost title

The brief, adrenaline-filled moment which follows their going out has been the Achilles\' heel that Lewis cannot overcome.

Published: 17th September 2016 08:46 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th September 2016 08:07 PM   |  A+A-

Singapore F1 GP Auto _Mukh

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton | AP

Lewis Hamilton's engineers have spent 12 months digesting Mercedes' woeful performance in last year's Singapore Grand Prix, but the world champion knows all that labour could be undone in a couple of seconds tomorrow. Amid all the lights that illuminate this spectacular event, only five red ones matter at 8pm local time (1pm BST).

The brief, adrenaline-filled moment which follows their going out has been the Achilles' heel that Hamilton cannot overcome. Starts have cost him three victories this season, including a particularly painful defeat in Monza last time out, and he fears the cumulative damage of these suspect getaways could deny him a fourth world championship.

Just as Mercedes have been trying to understand why their car was more than a second-a-lap slower than Ferrari and Red Bull around the Marina Bay street circuit last year, so the team have worked tirelessly to make their getaways more consistent.

While they are optimistic that a solution has been found to the former shortcoming, Hamilton has little confidence that his poor starts are a thing of the past.

That would be damaging enough if this race unfolds as another instalment of Hamilton's duel with Nico Rosberg, with only two points separating the team-mates in the drivers' standings after 14 races.

But despite the team's progress, some of which was evident in practice yesterday, the dominant outfit of the past few years is not favourite to win today. It may be merciful relief for the sport but the timing could not be worse for Hamilton.

Slumped in front of the world's press, Hamilton did not sound like a positive man. With just seven flyaway races in this 21-round season to go, the tension is rising between the Mercedes duo. Rosberg crashed in first practice while Hamilton missed half an hour of the second session with a hydraulic issue.

"I don't come here with confidence," he said, referring to last year's troubles. "I don't know how we are going to be. Last year, we arrived and were a second off the pace. We now have more knowledge about the car and where we went wrong and have prepared, so we don't think we will be a second off, but we will have to see."

On the starts, he was even more downbeat. "If you gauge my season, then the championship could be lost by starts," the three-time champion added. "From a lot of pole positions, I've lost the race from the start. You do all the work during the weekend, and then two seconds or whatever it is, has determined some of the races for me."

It is a feature of new rules over starts introduced this year which increase the randomness of the getaways, as well as putting more pressure on the driver to get it right without the help of engineers.

Hamilton has converted only three of seven pole positions to victories, while Rosberg has managed four of six. But both of them might be relegated to the second row tomorrow if the pre-race hype about their rivals is to be believed.

The expectation is that Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo will feature heavily at the sharp end. Verstappen has an upgraded Renault engine which could edge Red Bull even closer to - or beyond - the Silver Arrows.

The only thing not in Red Bull's favour? Only world champions have won in Singapore, and neither of their superb drivers have a title under their belt. Sebastian Vettel has four victories, Hamilton has two, and Fernando Alonso has two.

It has been won only by the pre-eminent drivers of this era for good reason. The circuit has 23 corners packed into just over three miles, across a bumpy, street surface.

Even at night, the temperature is often above 30 degrees Celsius and humidity is high. The drivers lose around three kilograms covering 61 laps in just under two hours. But it is the first few seconds that could decide it for Hamilton.

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