Lewis Hamilton dramatically turned on his Mercedes team by appearing to hint at a conspiracy theory after his bid for a fourth championship was hit by another engine failure.
Hamilton was on course to cruise to the 50th victory of his career in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix and move clear of his sole rival Nico Rosberg in the championship race.
But with 15 laps remaining, Hamilton’s Mercedes engine blew up in the most dramatic of circumstances to hand victory to Daniel Ricciardo, whose team-mate Max Verstappen followed him home to seal Red Bull’s first one-two finish in nearly three years.
Rosberg, who fought back from last position following a first-corner collision with Sebastian Vettel, finished third to move 23 points clear of Hamilton with just five races remaining.
While Hamilton, whose title defence has been plagued by a number of engine failures, later insisted he had “100 per cent faith” in Mercedes, his comments in the immediate aftermath of his retirement hinted at a suggestion of foul play.
“Something or someone doesn’t want me to win this year,” Hamilton told BBC Radio 5 Live. “We are fighting for the championship and only my engines are failing. It does not sit right with me. My questions are to Mercedes. We have so many engines made for eight drivers, but mine are the only ones failing this year. Someone needs to give me some answers because this is not acceptable.”
Hamilton then told his team he would be cancelling his session with the written media, only to have a change of heart after a meeting with members of the Mercedes hierarchy.
“Honestly, you have got to understand from my point of view,” Hamilton, who is bidding to win a hat-trick of consecutive titles, said one hour later. “On one side, we have had the most incredible success for these two years of which I am so grateful. These guys work so hard and we are all feeling the pain right now.
“But when you get out the car, the feeling you have after leading the race and the car fails, it is pretty hard to say positive things all the time. Mercedes have built 43 engines – with the extra three that I have had – and I have happened to have most, if not all, of the failures. That is definitely a tough thing, but I have 100 per cent confidence in these guys. We all bear the pain.”
Hamilton also moved to clarify his comment in which he said “someone doesn’t want me to win this year”. Pointing upwards, Hamilton insisted he was referring to God. “It feels right now that the man above or a higher power is intervening a little bit,” he added. “If at the end of the year the higher power does not want me to be champion, with everything I have given towards it, I will have to accept that.”
Meanwhile Ricciardo, pictured, dedicated his first victory in more than two years to Jules Bianchi. Riccardo last won at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix, months before his friend Bianchi was involved in what would prove to be a fatal crash in Japan. “It was definitely a life-changing moment – the loss of Jules - as a competitor and a friend,” Ricciardo said. “That was hard to take. I would have loved to have won sooner, and dedicated this a bit sooner.”
Elsewhere, Jenson Button finished ninth in his 300th start while Britain’s Jolyon Palmer claimed the first points of his grand prix career after he crossed the line in tenth.