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Rosberg warns of difficulties ahead before resuming title battle with Hamilton

Hamilton praises title rival's 'dignity' after Singapore setback; Championship leader insists he's still the hunter

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Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg look ahead to the Japanese Grand Prix as their title fight continues this weekend.

Nico Rosberg has warned of more “difficulties” ahead for Mercedes as he prepares for the latest installment of his season-long title battle with team-mate Lewis Hamilton in Japan.

For only the second time this year, Rosberg will start the weekend on the backfoot in the standings after losing the lead of the Drivers’ World Championship to Hamilton in Singapore.

Bolstered and emboldened by their exclusive access to the fastest car on the grid, Hamilton and Rosberg, former friends turned title foes, have been engaged in a running battle all season, culminating in an unseemly collision at Spa last month which saw Hamilton retire and Rosberg assume the mantle of the sport’s pantomime villain.

“In general, things are going ok in the team. The fact is, it is an intense battle and for sure there will be difficulties in the future, that’s a given, we just need to navigate them as we have done before this year,” Rosberg told Sky Sports News HQ.

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Relations between the two Mercedes drivers have been frosty at the best of times this year. Hamilton announced they were no longer friends after May’s Monaco GP, when Rosberg won in highly contentious circumstances, and then accused the German of admitting that he had crashed on purpose in Belgium.

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Yet, in the wake of Rosberg’s mechanical failure in Singapore and subsequent – if unsmiling – attendance of Hamilton’s post-race victory celebrations, the 2008 World Champion offered some rare words of praise for his rival.

“Nico is a true professional, he’s shown incredible strength mentally, and speed and talent, and I thought he handled the last race with dignity. I’m sure he will come here just as strongly as he comes anywhere,” said Hamilton.

Despite Mercedes’ clear-daylight superiority, sustained wheel-to-wheel battles between the two title protagonists have been remarkably rare this year. Since Spain, when Hamilton just held on for victory ahead of Rosberg, the pair have only clashed, fleetingly, at Spa and on the final lap of Hungary. Mechanical unreliability has, in the main, been the unwelcome party-pooper, and, along with the threat of Typhoon Phanfone, is the dark cloud hanging over both drivers heading into the final five races.

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Simon Lazenby and Martin Brundle introduce this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix.

“I’m not thinking about the past in any way, I accept the past for what it is and I’m fully motivated and excited about being at Suzuka, one of the best tracks in the world with the best car,” added Rosberg.

“Reliability is a little bit of a  concern for the team but it’s not I’m not thinking about it at all, I’m very confident the team can get the job done.”

Hamilton, meanwhile, is focused on maintaining the run of form – and aggression – which has propelled him to the top of the championship table having been down and all-but out just a month ago after his luckless Belgium calamity.

“My plan is to continue doing what I was doing before, nothing has changed for me,” declared Hamilton. “It’s a great feeling coming here knowing that I have a great car, and also that we will be racing. We’re still starting again and I feel like I am still chasing.”

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