In The Driver's Seat

Hamilton's title challenge going up in flames and it's nothing but bad luck

We should not be surprised that the wall Lewis Hamilton has built around his emotions in a reliability-challenged 2016 season finally cracked in Sepang.

Ever since F1 came back from its summer break he's been beaten by team-mate Nico Rosberg, for a variety of reasons. And he's had to watch the man he has beaten for the last two seasons turn his hard-won 19-point advantage (gained by six victories in seven races which had turned around a 43-point deficit) into an eight-point deficit prior to last weekend through little fault of his own.

In Spa, he had to take grid penalties that left him at the back in order to harvest sufficient fresh engines to see him through to the end of the season. Rosberg won, but Hamilton fought up to third.

At Monza, he never put a wheel wrong as he dominated qualifying, only to have the Mercedes' notoriously fickle clutch ruin his getaway and leave him to a second-place finish as Rosberg inherited what should have been an easy success.

In Singapore recently, he had no answer to his team-mate's speed, and was kept down to third place as Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo chased Rosberg home.

There is simply no way on this earth that a company of Mercedes' stature would ever seek to compromise one driver's chances in such a way in favour of another.

But it goes even deeper than that.

Rosberg has enjoyed a largely untroubled season, bar a poor start in Germany.

But in Q1 in China and again in Q3 in Russia, problems with his car's energy recovery systems put Hamilton on his back foot, not just by generating grid penalties that saw him having to fight tooth and nail to finish seventh and second respectively but also by compromising his engine supply.

Hence his car underwent three power unit changes before the race in Belgium.

He came to Sepang needing a perfect weekend, and having dominated practice and qualifying, and taken pole position, he got away cleanly at the start and was controlling things with great precision, despite the race-day strength of the Red Bulls of Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.

Unfortunately, his engine broke without warning on the 41st lap as he held a 22.7-second lead.

"My questions are to Mercedes - we have lost so many engines," he told the BBC. "There are eight drivers and mine are the only ones that have failed. Someone has to give me some answers and it is not acceptable. Something or someone doesn't want me to win this year.

"It's a brand new engine, I've done one race with it. I did P3 with it, qualifying, it's a brand new engine from the three that I had. It's just odd. There's been like 43 engines from Mercedes, and only mine have gone."

We should not be surprised that Mercedes' technical director Paddy Lowe denied that any failure could ever be planned. Or that Mercedes' non-executive chairman Niki Lauda rubbished suggestions that the team were sabotaging Hamilton's title campaign or that the Stuttgart manufacturer wants a different man wearing the crown this season.

"I know Lewis very well, and he will not accuse the team," Lauda told reporters in the Sepang paddock.

"This interpretation I cannot accept. What do you guys think, suddenly we start to sabotage? Why? It's completely ridiculous and stupid.

"We work for both cars in the same way. All these questions are ridiculous."

I've said it before and it's worth repeating here, that in my opinion, there is simply no way on this earth that a company of Mercedes' stature would ever seek to compromise one driver's chances in such a way in favour of another.

The backlash from fans could impact hugely on roadcar sales, and in any case, it's just not in the company's nature, nor that of men such as Lauda or team boss Toto Wolff. Remember, these are the men who for the past three seasons of Silver Arrows domination have been brave enough to let their men race one another, even after the moments when they have actually collided.

I respect Wolff and Lauda, and thought the latter made a good point when he said of Hamilton's "Somebody doesn't want me to win" comment: "Lewis can mean anybody. This is a wide interpretation. If I am unlucky and I can't find an explanation... and if there is a God then I'd say I have done something wrong or he doesn't like me.

"A driver can be upset - I have been upset before in my racing career and I said rubbish. I don't want to say Lewis said rubbish, but these things can happen.

"It's emotion, which is fully acceptable, and there is nothing wrong."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2016, with the headline 'Hamilton's going up in flames and it's nothing but tough luck'. Print Edition | Subscribe