F1: Hamilton hits the self-destruct button
Hamilton finishes third as Rosberg increases lead
No one left to blame this time. As his hold on this title slipped further still, so too did Lewis 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 fan base 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 - this correspondent included - 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 Nico 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 a fourth world title this year.
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.
Nicco Rosberg celebrates his win in the Japanese Grand Prix. Picture/ AP
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 signs the apparent psychological fortitude he has built up can crumble so spectacularly under pressure from Rosberg.
Hamilton is 31 years old, has three championships under his belt 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 so destabilising, reflected in some bizarre tweets from 40,000 feet, while flying from Nagoya to Vienna after the race, over a short-lived protest against Max Verstappen.
It was not hard to picture the scene on Friday night: Hamilton sat in his room at the grotty Suzuka Circuit Hotel after a difficult practice session.He scrolled through messages on social media from his legions of 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.
Mercedes would have advised Hamilton against it if they had known.
Then he gets in the car and is beaten by Rosberg fair and square.
Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss, said yesterday that Hamilton’s performances behind the wheel justify “some collateral damage” rather than other incidents this weekend.
After finishing third, Hamilton made sure to congratulate Mercedes - a team he hinted a week ago had sabotaged him - on a third consecutive constructors’ title.
He posed with Rosberg for the customary team photo.But as the mechanics rushed to the front to spray some celebratory champagne, Hamilton turned around and walked off, headed straight for the flight back to Europe with Wolff and Niki Lauda, the Mercedes chairman.
Their words of encouragement and censure could prove critical.All the while Rosberg had been metronomic, not focused on his team-mate’s implosion but surely buoyed by it.
After races like this, which saw one of them flourish and the other flounder, it is no longer possible to maintain the idea that Rosberg would be a lucky champion.
This lights-to-flag victory, his ninth of the year, followed the form of the previous eight. While Hamilton got off the line like someone taking a tractor through mud, Rosberg flew away.
Six cars stormed past Hamilton.
There was a damp patch on his grid box but the reigning champion admitted he made a mistake. Starts for him at the moment are as much about clutch control as mind management.
Lewis Hamilton on his way to third place in the Japanese Grand Prix at the weekend. Picture/AP
Verstappen slotted in behind Rosberg, with Hamilton eighth.He made his first pass on lap seven, before everyone in front pitted.
Hamilton gained a few places in the first round of stops largely thanks to his compatriot, Jolyon Palmer, holding up Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez.
From there he scythed his way through the slower cars brilliantly, overtaking four on one lap.
He settled into fourth, slowing eating into Sebastian Vettel’s advantage. Some incompliant backmarkers helped Hamilton’s cause, prompting Vettel to turn the air blue.After his second stop, Vettel came out behind Hamilton, inexplicably, on softer tyres, which would struggle to last.
From there Hamilton gained on Verstappen, moving within striking distance of him eight laps from the end.
On the penultimate lap Hamilton went for it at the chicane, only for Verstappen to dart across and block the space.
Hamilton went down the escape road, ending his charge. He complained over the radio that the 19-year-old had moved in the braking zone. Mercedes later lodged an appeal which was withdrawn after 90 minutes, apparently at Hamilton’s instruction.
In a tweet which was rapidly deleted, Hamilton wrote during his flight: “One idiot said we have [protested] but it’s not true.”
He then corrected himself and said he told the team not to protest, another twist to a bizarre weekend.
Ahead, and firmly on the ground, Rosberg crossed the line to inch closer to a first title, impervious to his team-mate’s ongoing shenanigans. If it remains that way, and bad luck does not intervene, then Hamilton is without a path back.
-The Daily Telegraph·