Tuesday 6 December 2016

Lewis Hamilton shoulders the blame for horror start in Japan

Philip Duncan

Published 09/10/2016 | 12:18

Race winner Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg
Race winner Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg

A despondent Lewis Hamilton admitted he was at fault for the horror start in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix which now leaves the Formula One championship out of his control.

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The Briton recovered to finish third after he lost six places on the opening lap, but Hamilton 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 Sunday'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 on Sunday, but Hamilton did not hang around for the celebrations.

Hamilton, and his Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, boarded Niki Lauda's private plane from Nagoya in the hours after the race, and they are scheduled to arrive in Vienna on Sunday night.

Hamilton, along with Rosberg, will be at the team's headquarters in Brackley on Tuesday to toast their latest team title.

"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. Our main emphasis will be on building him up."

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.

''Sorry, guys'', a downcast Hamilton said over the team radio.

''No stress, Lewis,'' came the reply from his race engineer Pete Bonnington.

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.

''Max moved under braking,'' Hamilton complained. 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, while Jenson Button's miserable weekend here culminated in him coming home a lowly 18th.

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