Thursday 25 May 2017

Hamilton in Mercedes conspiracy rant as engine failure dents his title hopes

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton gets out of his burning car after an engine failure ruined his Grand Prix in Malaysia. Photo: Brian Ching/AP Photo
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton gets out of his burning car after an engine failure ruined his Grand Prix in Malaysia. Photo: Brian Ching/AP Photo

Daniel Johnson

The flames bellowed from the exhaust just as explosively as Lewis Hamilton turned his fire on Mercedes. In the searing heat of Sepang, the British driver's fuse had been lit, as he stoked theories his own team have been conspiring against him.

The flames bellowed from the exhaust just as explosively as Lewis Hamilton turned his fire on Mercedes. In the searing heat of Sepang, the British driver's fuse had been lit, as he stoked theories his own team have been conspiring against him.

Accusations of sabotage have raged all year, but this spectacular blowout while in the lead of the Malaysian Grand Prix proved too much for the reigning world champion to bear.

Head in his hands, perhaps with tears in his eyes, Hamilton cried out over the radio "Oh no, no!" having seen his hard-earned lead in the drivers' championship transformed into a 23-point deficit within a matter of seconds.

Hamilton's championship is not up in smoke yet, but it will take something close to five victories from the five remaining races to stop team-mate Nico Rosberg taking a maiden title.

The sense of injustice after a season of misfortune spilled over into Hamilton's incendiary attack on Mercedes. As he put it: "It does not sit right with me."

For all the raw emotion of such a devastating blow, the accusations of deliberate meddling by Mercedes are bordering on absurd. To design an engine which runs perfectly through practice and qualifying, only to blow up 15 laps from the end of a race, is a feat even the brightest brains in F1 could not manage.

There are more effective means of sabotage: putting excess fuel in the car to slow a driver down, for instance.

But Hamilton suggested something is amiss, particularly given he is the only one to be suffering so badly with mechanical problems this year.

"My question is to Mercedes," the 31-year-old said, as he began a stinging rebuke to the team. "We have so many engines made for drivers, but mine are the only ones failing this year. Someone needs to give me some answers because this is not acceptable. We are fighting for the championship and only my engines are failing.

"It does not sit right with me," I will try and recollect myself and try to get myself together for the race next week (in Suzuka).

"Someone doesn't want me to win this year but I won't give up. I will keep pushing. I've just got to move on.

"I just can't believe that there are eight Mercedes cars and only my engines are the ones that have gone this way. Something just doesn't feel right."

Talk about not holding back. That has never been Hamilton's style. Mercedes promptly announced that Hamilton would not be doing his usual post-race press conference with the written press - a "mutual decision", they said - only to change their mind.

It screamed of damage limitation after he hinted at foul play in the TV pen (drivers are obliged under the sporting regulations to speak to the cameras). Asked to clarify the "someone" who does not want him to win, Hamilton pointed at the sky and said: "A higher power." The three-time world champion has spoken many times of his religious conviction.

"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," he said.

The question therefore arises: is it Mercedes or God? Chronic misfortune seems like the best explanation.

Mercedes need some explanations to try to get Hamilton through the season without any more failures. Last night he spoke to all the mechanics to console them, some with tears in their eyes.

He flew to Tokyo this morning, with Niki Lauda, the team's chairman, the first to strongly dismiss talk of conspiracy.

"I know Lewis very well. He will not accuse the team," Lauda said. This is an interpretation I cannot accept.

"We do everything possible to give him the best car and engine. I am responsible for the engine and team. I apologise to him. We do not know the cause.

"How can you say we sabotaged it? It's ridiculous."

Toto Wolff, head of Mercedes motorsport, promised to leave "no stone unturned" into finding out why Hamilton had been so badly afflicted with engine issues. They had previously affected three races, all Rosberg victories.

Hamilton said he is prepared to miss practice sessions to save the two engines he has left, but Wolff feared this would be even more detrimental.

Time is running out to fix the problems with the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend.

The flame burns bright in Hamilton but there may be too many fires to put out for him to win a fourth title this year. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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