Even before Lewis Hamilton hitched a lift to Japan on Niki Lauda’s private plane early on Monday morning, his bitter frustrations over events in Malaysia had eased.Hamilton had shown swaggering dominance over all his rivals – his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg included – over the race weekend in Kuala Lumpur, only to see his engine blow up 15 laps from what would have been a thoroughly deserved race win.
He had appeared to be accusing Mercedes of sabotage when he said after the race “something or someone doesn’t want me to win this year”.
Lewis Hamilton blames ‘higher power’ not Mercedes for F1 engine failures
His anger was understandable. Victory would have seen him re-establish a lead over Rosberg in the world championship; instead Rosberg came third and moved 23 points ahead, edging closer to his first title.
But later on Sunday evening, and after a few deep breaths, Hamilton sounded a little more pragmatic. Could he pick himself up for next Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix?
“You forget I am world champion so I should be all right,” he smiled. “I will find strength from within to come to these next races. If I perform like I did this weekend then, providing the car holds together, good things can come. I have been through a lot of these experiences and I am pretty strong already. We will learn. The guys will take the engine back and understand why.”
The situation reminds him of the start of the season, when Rosberg won the first four races on his way to building up a 43-point lead, which Hamilton wiped out with six wins in seven races.
“We had the problems in the first part of the season and we had the feeling that it was slipping through our fingers and there was nothing we could do about it. Then we had a splurge of good results,” he said. “And then a bunch of difficult results and this similar kind of feeling that I had back in Barcelona. I have no idea what is going to happen in these next five races. All I can do is what I have done this weekend. Come correct, be as focussed as I can possibly be, put in the performances that I have this weekend and pray that the car still holds together. I still have faith and hope and that is a powerful thing.”
He added: “All I can do is focus on tomorrow and focus on my preparation and still take it one race at a time. There is still no substitution for hard work. It is not my lowest point – I have had lower points for sure – but I did feel helpless.”
Sport picture of the day: Lewis Hamilton’s Malaysian Grand Prix goes up in flames
Lewis Hamilton’s fight for the world championship was severely hampered after an engine malfunction in Malaysia
After Sunday’s race social media was soon full of lurid suggestions that Mercedes were “fixing things”. That, of course, is preposterous. What about Rosberg’s gearbox problems at Silverstone in July and his difficulties in 2014?
Rosberg himself said: “I understand very well how Lewis feels now because I’ve been there in my career – I had two major failures when we were fighting for the championship at the end of 2014. It feels horrible and I’m sure he is extremely gutted, especially when you deserve to win a race.”
Mercedes have confirmed that Hamilton and Rosberg are now equal in terms of the availability of engines. The executive director, Paddy Lowe, told Motorsport.com on Monday: “Lewis is back to level terms with Nico, in effect. It’s put him back to a five-engine programme rather than six-engine programme for the year.”
Meanwhile, Mercedes have been accused of being “irresponsible” and “bullying” by Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, for pushing for a pre-season test in Bahrain next year. Horner is against taking the planned test away from Barcelona, saying it would hit the smaller teams.
He said: “My personal preference is that we should stick in Europe,” he said. “We have got probably 65-75% of the grid that are struggling for budgets, struggling for finance. So to be more than an hour and a half away from the factory, at the point you are developing your car, and a new concept car as well, at a time of year when in Spain in late February, early March the temperature is warming up, seems irresponsible financially.
“Unless there is a huge subsidy which I don’t believe there is – unless Mercedes are going to pay for everybody’s freight to go to Bahrain – I think it is a bit irresponsible, to be honest with you, to be dictating and bullying teams into making that test. We are a team that can afford to go to Bahrain but I believe it is better that we should test in Barcelona.”
Story: The Guardian UK
Photo: Getty Images