Lewis Hamilton fears he will be made to wait for his sixth World Championship after accusing Mercedes of costing him a shot at victory in Japan.
Hamilton will move to within one title of Michael Schumacher’s record if he wins in Mexico a week next Sunday and Valtteri Bottas, who yesterday claimed his first triumph since April, finishes fifth or lower.
However, the Briton’s chances of sewing up the championship for a third successive year in Mexico City would have been greater but for a questionable strategy decision –one which Hamilton described on the radio as a “f***-up” – as he finished third.
For the second time in three races, the championship leader was aggrieved to have lost out on strategy. In Singapore, he claimed his pit wall’s failure to react to an early stop by Sebastian Vettel robbed him of an easy win. Here, Hamilton’s argument was threefold. First, he lost 10 seconds to Bottas after being kept out on old tyres for three more laps than his team-mate.
Then, Hamilton believed he would have been better off changing to the most durable hard rubber.
When he was not, the Englishman thought he should have been told to manage his tyres, not blitz them in trying to catch Vettel, who like Bottas, was on an obvious two-stop strategy. Hamilton finished half-a-second behind the Ferrari driver.
“That was just a f***-up,” said Hamilton complaining to his race engineer, Pete Bonnington. “How have I lost that much time? I am basically out of the race.”
Despite Mercedes wrapping up a sixth successive constructors’ championship – an unprecedented achievement as a sixth drivers’ title will now certainly follow – Hamilton was in no immediate rush to celebrate. “I don’t anticipate it will be Mexico where I win the championship,” said Hamilton. “We still have a battle.
“Today could have been done better. There have been multiple scenarios this year where that has been the case. We should have got a one-two but the strategy was not optimum for me.
“I came out from the pits and realised I lost 10 seconds, and I am like, why? If they told me I would have been that far behind Valtteri I would have said no to them, and stopped earlier. Naturally, we will sit and talk to the engineers and strategists. There will be discussions when we get back.”
Mercedes chief Toto Wolff admitted there was a chance Hamilton could have made it to the end without stopping for a second time but knows it will take something extraordinary to prevent him from sealing the title, being 64 points clear with four rounds and 104 points left to play for.