Lewis Hamilton dramatically turned on his Mercedes team by appearing to hint at a conspiracy theory after his bid for a fourth championship was hit by another engine failure.
Hamilton was on course to cruise to the 50th victory of his career in yesterday’s Malaysian Grand Prix and move clear of his sole rival Nico Rosberg in the championship race.
But with 15 laps remaining, Hamilton’s Mercedes engine blew up in the most dramatic of circumstances to hand victory to Daniel Ricciardo whose team-mate Max Verstappen followed him home to seal Red Bull’s first one-two finish in nearly three years.
Rosberg, who fought back from last position following a first-corner collision with Sebastian Vettel, finished third to move 23 points clear of Hamilton with just five races remaining.
While Hamilton, whose title defence has been plagued by a number of engine failures, later insisted he had “100 per cent faith” in Mercedes, his comments in the immediate aftermath of his retirement hinted at a suggestion of foul play.
“Something or someone doesn’t want me to win this year,” Hamilton told BBC Radio 5 Live. “We are fighting for the championship and only my engines are failing. It does not sit right with me.
“My questions are to Mercedes. We have so many engines made for eight drivers, but mine are the only ones failing this year. Someone needs to give me some answers because this is not acceptable.”
Hamilton then told his team he would be cancelling his subsequent session with the written media, only to have a change of heart following a meeting with members of the Mercedes hierarchy.
On the surface, it appeared like an attempt to limit the damage caused by his earlier remarks.
“Honestly, you have got to understand from my point of view,” Hamilton, who is bidding to win a hat-trick of consecutive titles, said one hour later.
“On one side, we have had the most incredible success for these two years of which I am so grateful. These guys work so hard and we are all feeling the pain right now.
“But when you get out the car, the feeling you have after leading the race and the car fails, it is pretty hard to say positive things all the time.
“Mercedes have built 43 engines – with the extra three that I have had – and I have happened to have most, if not all, of the failures. That is definitely a tough thing, but I have 100 per cent confidence in these guys. I have been with them for four years, and I have 100 per cent faith. I saw tears in the eyes of my mechanics.
“We all bear the pain.”
Ricciardo downed champagne from his sweaty race boot, and then dedicated his first victory in more than two years to Jules Bianchi.
As has become customary in recent races, Ricciardo celebrated his podium triumph by pouring champagne into his boot – an Australian tradition known as a “shoey” – before taking two swigs.
“It was definitely a life-changing moment – the loss of Jules – as a competitor and a friend,” Ricciardo said. “That was hard to take. I would have loved to have won sooner, and dedicated this a bit sooner.
“Since that day it definitely changes you as a person for the better. I’ve become more appreciative of the things I have and the position I am in.
“Today I won a Formula One race. It’s another dream come true. So, this one is definitely for him.”
Kimi Raikkonen crossed the line in fourth with Bottas in fifth place.
Jenson Button finished ninth in his 300th start, while British rookie Jolyon Palmer claimed the first points of his career with 10th.