Formula One: Hamilton's reputation repaired but not his title challenge

Red Bull's Max Verstappen just ahead of Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton during the Japanese Grand Prix. Mercedes lodged a protest over an aggressive block by the Dutch teenager near the end of the race before withdrawing it under two hours later, as th
Red Bull's Max Verstappen just ahead of Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton during the Japanese Grand Prix. Mercedes lodged a protest over an aggressive block by the Dutch teenager near the end of the race before withdrawing it under two hours later, as the Briton brushed off the incident.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SUZUKA • When Lewis Hamilton hinted at sabotage from within the Mercedes team after his third engine failure of the year in Malaysia on Oct 2, he went from hero to zero.

His standing in the sport took another hit after he then snubbed the media following qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix. This came after criticism for fiddling with his mobile phone and uploading photos to Snapchat during a press conference, leading to one British tabloid dubbing him "Snap-Prat".

But the world champion regained a measure of respect yesterday after a drive that saw him climb back from eighth - following a poor start - to finish third. More important perhaps was his post-race move to get a protest against runner-up Max Verstappen dismissed.

Mercedes had lodged a formal protest against the Red Bull driver for his aggressive move at the chicane on the penultimate lap. That block sent the Mercedes wide into a run-off area and prevented Hamilton from snatching second place in a thrilling tussle at Suzuka.

That protest, however, was withdrawn less than two hours later, seemingly at Hamilton's request.

 

"There is no protest from myself. Just heard the team had but I told them it is not what we do. We are champions, we move on. End of!" he said on Twitter.

But while his reputation might be recovering with his magnanimous gesture, the same cannot be said of his title challenge, especially with his closest title challenger, his team-mate Nico Rosberg, winning the race and extending his lead to 33 points with four races to go.

For the fifth time this season Hamilton made a poor start, although British media reported that Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believed a clutch problem was to blame.

This followed bad take-offs in Australia, Bahrain, Canada and Italy and it is this, together with his engine failures in China, Russia and Malaysia, which sees him so far off the pace.

For Hamilton, winning this year's World Championship is now out of his control, because victories in the last four races would not necessarily be enough to overhaul Rosberg.

After pulling back his team-mate's 43-point advantage to lead by 19 points as a result of six wins from seven races, Hamilton has now failed to win since July.

At Suzuka yesterday, he worked his way steadily through the field and while he almost went past Verstappen on the final lap, he never got close to Rosberg and now must wonder if he ever will for the remainder of this season.

There was a double stop for Hamilton, as there was with Rosberg, but with such a positional disadvantage from the start, there was never going to be any strategy Hamilton could pull to get back in the race.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2016, with the headline 'Hamilton's reputation repaired but not title bid'. Print Edition | Subscribe