With only five races remaining in the 2016 Formula One season and with a 23-point deficit to overcome, the challenge facing Hamilton is greater than simply to recover a missing 15 points.
It begins with the permutations for championship success – outscoring Nico Rosberg by five points per round would take the fight to the final race – but this only alludes to the sort of pressure that comes with a significant late-season points slump.
This type of pressure is insidious. It seeps into every facet of a driver and deprives him of confidence in his car, in his team, and in his belief that the ultimate result is truly achievable.
For Hamilton, a driver infamously beholden to his emotions, such an undermining of faith could be crucial at such a critical time.
“My questions are to Mercedes,” Hamilton told the BBC after getting out of the car. “There are eight [Mercedes-powered] drivers and mine are the only ones that have failed. Someone has to give me some answers.
“It is not acceptable. Something or someone doesn't want me to win this year.”
Such commentary, which he later clarified was a religious references rather than musings about a possible internal sabotage attempt, suggest his confidence could already be wavering.
Ironically, thought must be spared for Rosberg, too, who now faces the prospect of winning a championship that will be alleged to be tainted by the misfortune of his teammate.
Rosberg could only finish third in the Malaysian Grand Prix after an overzealous move by Sebastian Vettel at the first turn spun him around and dropped him to 21st.
His fight to the podium, including an aggressive pass on Kimi Räikkönen for which he controversially received a 10-second time penalty, was laudable, but his pensive mood after the race suggested an awareness that his lead in the title race is being regarded widely as more down to Hamilton’s technical troubles than his own racecraft.
“Points-wise, a good day for me of course, even though not for the right reasons – I want to get them on merit,” Rosberg said in a reflective video on his YouTube channel. “P3 is of course good damage limitation, even though I set out to win the race.”
Managing the gap for the next five races must be out of the question for Rosberg; the German must stamp his authority on what remains of the championship to banish his doubters should he claim his long-awaited first title
His first opportunity comes at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix on 9 October, a race Hamilton says “has never been a comfortable circuit” for him but one on which he has nonetheless won three times.
Two of those three wins have come from the last two season – results Rosberg will find particularly stinging given he started on pole for both of them and on each occasion surrendered the lead without much resistance.
The battle for the 2016 championship may have swung dramatically towards Rosberg, but the fight to define its meaning is still very much at play – and it’s a contest Nico will want very much to win against the highly regarded triple world champion.
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