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F1: Mercedes aims to regain their dominant stride

Suzuka (Japan): Formula One champions Mercedes are aiming to regain their dominant stride as they head into this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix hoping to prove their rare Singapore misstep was just a one-off stumble.

Lewis Hamilton. Pic/AFP Lewis Hamilton. Pic/AFP

Mercedes were puzzlingly off the pace all weekend around Singapore's Marina Bay street circuit. Neither world championship leader Lewis Hamilton nor teammate Nico Rosberg were in contention for pole position or the win.

Hamilton was eventually forced to retire less than halfway through the race while Rosberg finished a distant fourth, crossing the line nearly 25 seconds behind Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel who raced to his third win of the season.

The team and the drivers were baffled by their uncharacteristically underwhelming showing but, following an extensive analysis, believe their difficulties were circuit-specific.

Heading into the weekend, Hamilton and Rosberg said normal service should resume at the Suzuka circuit which, with its long straights and fast sweeping corners, should play to the Mercedes' strengths.

"I believe it's specific to Singapore so it should go back to normal," Hamilton told reporters on a wet, rainy day in the Suzuka paddock.

"I believe there are reasons in our balance, in the set-up that we had, the avenues that we went down which affected the car the way it did and the tyres the way it did. And the other teams perhaps did better than us. Just put it down to the technical side of things and we could have done a better job."

Despite failing to finish in Singapore, Hamilton, winner of seven of the 13 races so far, continues to lead the standings from Rosberg by a narrower, albeit still comfortable, 41 points. Vettel remains third but has taken a big chunk out of the Mercedes duo's lead following his Singapore win. He now trails Hamilton by 49 points and Rosberg by just eight.

Honda braced for uncompetitive homecoming
Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix will also mark the first time that Honda race in front of their home crowd since their return to the sport at the start of the season as the McLaren team's engine partner. But the McLaren-Honda combination, which recorded its fourth double retirement in Singapore, is braced for another tough weekend at a track owned by the Japanese car-maker.

The spotlight heading into the weekend was squarely focused on their driver Jenson Button, with speculation rife that the 16-year Formula One veteran would announce his retirement in the build up to Sunday's race.

However, in an anti-climactic twist to the anticipation that had been building all week regarding an announcement about his future, the 2009 world champion had nothing new to say.

"You're going to have to wait for a little while, I'm sorry to say. But we're in good talks, the team and myself, so that's it," Button told reporters.

"There's so many possibilities, what could happen next year, so many possibilities. I can't give you anything else, really."

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