FORMULA 1 racer Lewis Hamilton is looking to challenge for victory in the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.

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Formula One 2011 Japanese Grand Prix

Suzuka Circuit Specifications

Top speed: 310km/h

Average speed: 220km/h

Pit straight length: 710m

Circuit length: 5.807km

Race length: 53 laps/308km

Number of corners: 18

Longest section at full throttle: 16sec/1,230m

The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes ace from Hertfordshire will start from the second row on Sunday after qualifying third in Japan this morning (Saturday).

Hamilton, 26, will line-up behind pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel and McLaren colleague Jenson Button.

But the Herts-born 2008 F1 world champion fired a warning to his front-row rivals that he’s gunning for the top step of the podium in Japan.

He said: “I might be starting third, but I know I’m as quick as the two guys in front of me.

“It’s not been a fantastic weekend for me so far, so hopefully that’ll change tomorrow [Sunday].”

Hamilton clocked 1m 30.617s in Q3 and feels the MP4-26 is finally a match for the Red Bulls.

Lewis said: “I’m happy to be third – I’ll be starting from the cleaner side of the grid, and we can have a good race from there.

“And I’m pleased that we’ve been extremely competitive all weekend.

“We’ve definitely shown an improvement: to be so close at a high-speed circuit like this means we’re doing well.

“It’s very encouraging, because if we’d had this car at the beginning of the season, I think the championship could have been a different story.”

Button, who was fastest in all three practice sessions at Suzuka, is also looking to challenge Vettel for the chequered flag.

After missing pole position by 9/1000ths of a second, Button said: “This is the closest I’ve been to pole position all season, but it’s still not pole: tomorrow’s grid will still be the same distance from first to second place.”

He added: “I think the whole team feels encouraged because we didn’t come to this race with any significant upgrades, we just got the car working well all weekend.

“We have a more efficient rear wing, particularly with DRS, but we’ve just made this car very quick on high-speed circuits.

“We were quick at Spa, and we’re quick here too, so it’s no surprise.

“Our Friday long-runs on high-fuel were less than ideal, but we’ve seen the form vary significantly between Friday and Sunday, so tomorrow should be very different.

"I might be starting third, but I know I’m as quick as the two guys in front of me."

Lewis Hamilton after Japanese GP qualifying

“Sunday’s the important day: we start second, but it’s so, so close. I really hope we can take the fight to Red Bull tomorrow.”

McLaren supremo Martin Whitmarsh was pleased to see the team competing with Red Bull on the track.

Hamilton’s team principal said: “In terms of pace, we’re encouraged by our performance – it’s the closest we’ve been to the Red Bulls for some time, and, with one driver starting second and the other third, we’re in good shape for the race tomorrow.”

The 2011 Grand Prix of Japan starts at 7am on Sunday and can be seen live on BBC One.

* Videos courtesy of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.

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