Daniel Ricciardo triumphed at the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday but his win was overshadowed by Lewis Hamilton’s claim that he was the victim of a conspiracy aimed at halting his march to a fourth world title.
Hamilton was leading with 15 laps to go when the engine on his Mercedes spectacularly exploded at the Sepang International Circuit.
“No, no,” cried the Englishman as flames appeared at the back of his car, leaving Ricciardo to take the lead and eventual victory ahead of Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen.
Championship leader Nico Rosberg survived a first-bend spin involving Sebastian Vettel and a 10-second penalty to take third place and extend the gap over Mercedes teammate Hamilton to 23 points with just five races remaining.
Hamilton was almost in tears after the dramatic end to his race which dealt a severe blow to his chances of securing a third drivers’ championship in a row.
“My question is to Mercedes: we have so many engines made for drivers, but mine are the only ones failing this year,” 31-year-old Hamilton told BBC radio.
“Someone needs to give me some answers because this is not acceptable. We are fighting for the championship and only my engines are failing.
“There are many decisive races but this is one of those. Someone doesn’t want me to win this year, but I won’t give up. I will keep pushing.”
Mercedes executive director Paddy Lowe defended the team, saying there was “no pattern” as to why Hamilton’s engines kept failing and Rosberg’s did not.
“It is difficult. No failure is planned,” said Lowe on SkySports television.
Later in the day, Hamilton attempted to make peace with his team, posting a conciliatory statement on his Facebook page in which he appeared to backtrack on his earlier outburst.
– ‘Pain is indescribable’ –
“Today, the pain is indescribable,” he wrote. “I have 100% faith in my team, they have worked so hard both at the track, and factory, and I want to say a HUGE thank you to them.
“I know we’ve had all these problems but it’s not how we fall, it’s how we get up… I will, we will, NEVER give up!”
Hamilton had looked all set to snatch back the championship lead from Rosberg, who was relegated from second on the grid to 21st after he was hit by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel on the first bend.
Vettel was forced to retire with a broken front suspension in the incident that also involved Verstappen.
Hamilton had got away cleanly from pole position and sped off into the distance, clear of the trouble behind him.
He looked to be heading for a comfortable win until his engine let go in the most spectacular fashion.
An ecstatic Ricciardo celebrated his first win of the season on the podium with a “shoey” — drinking champagne from his driving boot.
“It was a race of challenges,” said Ricciardo.
“Lewis got the lead and had his problems. It went the other way in Monaco, and I will take this today,” said the Australian, referring to his botched final pit stop which handed Hamilton victory in Monaco earlier in the season.
“It has been two years since (my) last win, and it has been a bit emotional. I said two weeks ago we would win one and we did.”
Verstappen, who turned 19 on Friday, celebrated his podium finish and his birthday by also drinking the sweaty cocktail.
Rosberg sliced his way back through the field imperiously after the first corner drama and was surprised to make the podium.
“I thought the race was all over, so I am really happy to fight back all the way to the podium,” Rosberg said.
Hamilton’s failure to finish and Rosberg’s third place mean that Mercedes missed a chance to clinch the constructors’ championship in Sepang.
They have 553 points but Red Bull, who picked up 43 points for the one-two, have closed the gap to 194 points with a maximum of 215 up for grabs in the remaining five races of the season. – Agence France-Presse