Lewis Hamilton admitted he does not have “any more jokers available” after falling 36 points behind Nico Rosberg following a dramatic Chinese Grand Prix.
Rosberg cruised to his third victory in as many races this season after his opposition fell away one by one at the Shanghai International Circuit.
The Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen tripped over one another at turn one and Felipe Nasr, in attempting to avoid the two team-mates, rammed into Hamilton, starting from last on the grid after his engine expired in qualifying. The Briton lost his front wing in the collision and was forced to stop, and when Daniel Ricciardo, who had beaten Rosberg off the line, suffered a tyre blow-out on the following lap, the German’s opposition had been wiped out in a matter of thrilling minutes.
Rosberg subsequently cruised to a 38-second victory, his sixth in succession stretching back to last season, over Vettel, who recovered to finish second, and the Red Bull of Daniil Kvyat.
Hamilton said: “There’s a long, long way to go. Lots can happen. It is just I don’t have any more jokers available really.
“It was a pretty horrifying race really, but there were some good experiences, there was some good overtaking.”
Hamilton, who has adopted a positive attitude here, continued to remain upbeat last night.
“I definitely don’t feel the dark cloud I’ve had over me in the past right now,” he added. “Of course it’s a trying time. There are lots of different emotions and thoughts going through my mind as you see the season start the wrong way. But this is a part of motor racing. This is a part of the journey.”
Hamilton was third at the time of his fourth of five stops on lap 21 and he emerged midway through the order, but that was where his charge – with the damage to his car now taking more of an effect on his performance – stopped.
“Lewis, give it everything you’ve got, mate,” was the call from his team, but Hamilton’s response was telling. “I am,’’ he replied, and by lap 30 he was back in the pits for a fifth and final time.
He emerged in 13th and negotiated the slower cars with ease, but Felipe Massa was proving an altogether different animal in the Williams, allowing both Ricciardo and Raikkonen to overtake the limping Briton.
There were no such concerns for Vettel – who despite being only 15th in the opening phase of the race – stormed all the way back through the pack to finish second.
However, a furious Vettel accused Kvyat of “suicidal” driving and blamed the Russian for his opening-lap collision with Raikkonen.
Kvyat, who started from sixth on the grid, attempted to overtake Vettel at turn one, but in allowing space for the Red Bull, Vettel inadvertently ran into his Ferrari team-mate.
Vettel and Raikkonen lost significant time in the incident – which was not investigated by the stewards – and both were forced to stop for new front wings, dropping to 15th and 19th respectively.
Vettel made his feelings clear over the incident, first on the radio, and subsequently to Kvyat ahead of the podium celebrations. “The attack was suicidal,” Vettel said to his team. “There was always going to be a crash.”
He also described the Russian as a “mad man”. After the race finished, Vettel vented his angst in person to Kvyat in a toe-curling exchange. He began: “You, asking what happened at the start? If I don’t go to the left you crash into us and we all three go out. You came like a torpedo.”
Kvyat, laughing nervously, replied: “I was racing.” Vettel interrupted: “Yeah, but if I keep going the same line, we crash. There was a car on the left also. That’s why I hit the other car.”
Kvyat said: “Oh yeah I can see all the three cars, man, come on. I have only two eyes, two cars.”
The to-and-fro continued before Vettel said: “I know it’s racing but you need to expect when you attack like a crazy you damage the car. You were lucky this time. There was damage to Kimi.”
A stern Kvyat answered: “I am on the podium, so it’s okay. You are on the podium, fine.” Ricciardo starred en route to finishing fourth following his early tyre blow-out, with Raikkonen and Massa crossing the line in fifth and sixth.The McLaren duo of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were 12th and 13th. Britain’s Jolyon Palmer was the last of the classified 22 runners, with all cars, despite the drama, making it to the end of the race.