LONDON • Lewis Hamilton has started the new Formula One (F1) season under a cloud after his temper snapped during a visit to a casino in New Zealand.
The world champion was in Auckland and apparently on a private visit to the SkyCity Casino. The details of what happened are unclear, but Hamilton was soon venting his spleen to his 3.2 million Twitter followers.
"Don't ever go to the Sky City Casino in Auckland," the Mercedes driver wrote. "They treated me like dirt. Can't believe how rude they were. Worst casino experience ever!"
Media in New Zealand and Australia, where Hamilton is heading next for the first Grand Prix of the season, were soon on red alert, wondering what had happened to trigger such an extreme reaction.
Some wondered whether the Briton, with his liking for wearing baseball caps and sunglasses, had contravened the 24-hour casino's strict dress code.
The casino soon used social media to apologise, however. "So sorry to hear @lewishamilton didn't have a good time with us last night. We pride ourselves on being good hosts. We're following up with him," they said.
Hamilton's original tweet was then taken down and he was last seen riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a final bit of leisure time before work starts in earnest in Melbourne as preparations get under way for the Australian Grand Prix, with the first practice session starting tomorrow.
However, he was caught in controversy yet again over a video he apparently filmed of himself and the traffic behind him while riding the motorcycle on an Auckland highway.
It is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving in New Zealand. Fortunately for Hamilton, New Zealand police ruled out charging him but renewed warnings about using mobile devices while driving.
"The video footage available does not provide us with sufficient evidence that an offence has occurred," a statement said.
Despite the off-track issues, the world champion is ready to get down to business and reassert his dominance over Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg and the rest of the F1 field.
"I have been racing for a long time and always managed to get myself in gear," Hamilton said.
I am fit and ready to go. I just do me. I do the same thing I always do.
"Coming into this year, I really feel like it's a clean slate. When I arrive at the track, I don't feel like I'm world champion - that's why I have No. 44 on my car and not No. 1.
"I'm No. 44, the same as I was when I first started racing. I was here to beat everyone and that's how I'm going into the first race."
Meanwhile, Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo is hoping that Melbourne's erratic weather can drive him to success this weekend.
If there is rain, he says, it will bring both Hamilton and Rosberg, who he thinks are the pair to beat, back to a level playing field.
"They will be hard to beat this weekend for sure but the good thing about Melbourne is that you never know with the weather ... a bit of rain could stir things up," Ricciardo said.
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE