Tuesday 17 October 2017

Hamilton loses plot as world falls apart

Lewis Hamilton all alone with his thoughts after a weekend to forget on Suzuka which left Nico Rosberg firmly in the driving seat. Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton all alone with his thoughts after a weekend to forget on Suzuka which left Nico Rosberg firmly in the driving seat. Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Daniel Johnson

Lewis Hamilton was keen to stress that he was referring to God when he claimed "something or someone doesn't want me to win", but he now requires a divine intervention if he is to retain the World Championship he has dominated since 2014 after Nico Rosberg won the Japanese Grand Prix.

As Hamilton crossed the finish line at Hockenheim to head into the summer break with a 19-point lead over Rosberg, it felt like the season was already over. How wrong we were.

Hamilton's run of six victories in seven grands prix feels like an age ago and, after overhauling a 43-point deficit earlier in the season, the three-time world champion now finds himself 33 points behind his team-mate.

The defending champion has failed to win any of his last five races and has had to watch his arch rival win four of them.

There was no one left to blame this time. And, as his hold on this title slipped further still, so too did Hamilton's grasp on reality after a weekend of self-destruction rarely seen in Formula One.

The last seven days have been vintage Hamilton against the world. Among the echo chamber of his own devoted fanbase online, where he is worshipped like a deity, he may have won, but in every other sense he lost.

Among those who admire him enormously as a sportsman, and usually find it in their wit to gloss over some of his more colourful public behaviour, he was diminished and left Mercedes fearing their lead driver is in meltdown at one of the most critical junctures in his career.

More importantly, he lost and Rosberg won. Now the German holds all the cards in a championship which, with four races remaining, is beyond Hamilton's control.

With a 33-point lead, all Rosberg needs to do is finish runner-up three times and take third in the other. Luck will have to turn Hamilton's way for him to win the World Championship for the fourth time.

The bare facts from Suzuka, perhaps the most challenging circuit in the sport, are these: Rosberg topped every practice session, took pole position and dominantly won the race from there.

Meanwhile, Hamilton qualified second, slipped disastrously at the start to eighth through another mistake off the line - his fifth of the year - before he recovered well to finish third behind Max Verstappen.

Misfortune has plagued Hamilton this season - most glaringly in Malaysia a week ago when his engine blew up while leading the race - but that should not distract from his own imperfect performances.

The extra few per cent which ensured in the last two years that Rosberg was left trailing have gone missing. More worrying are the signs that the apparent psychological fortitude he has built up can crumble so spectacularly under pressure from Rosberg.

Protest

Hamilton is 31 years old and has been in the sport for nearly a decade. Yet a fairly innocuous tiff with the media over using Snapchat in Thursday's press conference - for which he copped mostly jovial criticism - has seemingly proved destabilising. This was reflected in some bizarre tweets from 40,000 feet, while flying from Nagoya to Vienna after the race, over a short-lived protest against Verstappen.

It was not hard to picture the scene on Friday night: Hamilton sitting in his room at the grotty Suzuka Circuit Hotel after a difficult practice session, scrolling through messages on social media from his supporters.

Sharing their disgust at what he perceives as negative coverage, Hamilton blocked one journalist on Twitter before refusing to speak to the written press.

It's never been wise to bet against Hamilton fighting back from the brink, but this weekend showed a side of Hamilton rarely seen - one of mental fragility, one of conceding defeat, and one of knowing he'll finish up second best. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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