A despondent Lewis Hamilton admitted he was at fault for the horror start in yesterday’s Japanese Grand Prix which now leaves the Formula 1 championship out of his control after he slipped further behind Nico Rosberg in the title race.
Rosberg sauntered to his ninth victory of the season and, while Hamilton recovered to finish third, the Briton is now 33 points behind his Mercedes team-mate.
Hamilton rallied after losing six places on the opening lap, but could now win each of the remaining four rounds in the United States, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi and still come up short in his quest for a fourth title.
Hamilton, who walked out of his press conference with the written media on Saturday in response to what he deemed to be disrespectful coverage of his antics on Snapchat earlier this week, was faced with a damp grid slot following overnight rain.
He hinted at sabotage from his own Mercedes team following his engine failure in Malaysia last weekend before taking aim at the media here but there was no one else to blame for what happened at the start of yesterday’s race.
Hamilton continued his written press blackout afterwards but did speak – albeit briefly – in the official press conference for the top three drivers, an obligation which is mandatory for drivers under the sport’s regulations.
“I don’t think the damp patch had really anything to do with it,” Hamilton said. “I made a mistake, and then just working my way up from there was tricky. I did the best I could.”
Regarding the 33-point gap to Rosberg, Hamilton added: “I’ll give it everything I’ve got as I did in the race and we’ll see what happens.”
Mercedes sealed their third consecutive constructors’ title yesterday, but Hamilton did not hang around for the celebrations. The Briton and his Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, boarded Niki Lauda’s private plane from Nagoya in the hours after the race, and were scheduled to arrive in Vienna last night.
“I think after such a race, it is not the right moment to really put the finger where it hurts,” said Wolff, when asked if he and Lauda will address Hamilton’s bizarre conduct in Japan. “We need to calm down, find out what happened, regroup, and my learning from the last couple of years is that 24 hours later things look different.”
Following poor starts in Australia, Bahrain, Canada and Monza Hamilton was again painfully slow to get going in Suzuka. By the time he got down to turn one he had been passed by six drivers. Rosberg, who started from pole, had no such concerns as he retained the lead and never looked back.
Hamilton, through a combination of strategy and passing moves, progressed to third, before he attempted to overtake Max Verstappen at the chicane on the penultimate lap. Verstappen blocked his route and Hamilton was forced to take to the escape path. His Mercedes team subsequently lodged a protest against the Dutch teenager, but later withdrew it.
Sebastian Vettel crossed the line in fourth ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo. British rookie Jolyon Palmer finished 12th, with Jenson Button a lowly 18th.