Lewis Hamilton is at the centre of a media curiosity. Just one week after his power unit gave up the ghost in Malaysia, a malfunction that deprived the team of a chance to claim the team title at the home race of its biggest sponsor, now too has the man himself lacked his usual soul in his quest to claim back his 25 lost points.
In last Thursday’s (Oct 6) curtain-raising drivers press conference the Briton distracted himself on his smartphone with social media app Snapchat, neglecting the assembled press and television viewers worldwide.
In a response to a question regarding his relationship with his team, he replied simply that the journalist ought to “go on my Instagram” for answers.
Subsequent reportage of his behaviour enraged the driver to such a degree that he walked out of his usual Saturday evening post-qualifying press conference, citing ‘disrespectful’ media as his reason for boycotting his press commitments.
“I am not actually here to answer your questions, I have decided,” he said. “I don’t really plan on sitting here many more times for these kind of things.”
Hamilton never specified exactly what protest he was making nor what precisely he took objection to, but a combination of his poor reaction to the previous week’s retirement, the sport’s response to his Thursday antics, and his defeat at the hands of his teammate in qualifying all likely played a part in his decision to abandon the paddock last Saturday (Oct 8).
Critics of Lewis Hamilton’s jet-setting, hedonistic lifestyle have frequently been forced to eat their words by the Briton’s ongoing on-track success, but for the first time in years the 31-year-old’s emotional fragility appears to be leaking into his performance both in and out of the cockpit.
His getaway from the line was so poor he dropped to eighth on the first lap, and only a combination of strategy and some well-timed fast laps allowed him to recover to third.
But by the first turn the damage had already been done: Nico Rosberg left Suzuka with a 33-point lead over Hamilton – a lead sufficient to allow him to finish second in all remaining race and still take the crown.
A weekend of psychological defiance turned into one of embarrassing defeat. Around a circuit famed for being a ‘driver’s track’ – a course that separated the good pilots from the great – Hamilton had been shown up trying to wage his own brand of psychological warfare.
Worse for Mercedes is that it’s highly-paid star’s high-profile walk-out underlined a power struggle in the team between Hamilton and the squad’s hierarchy, which is increasingly finding it has little power to control its reigning champion without making a litany of rumoured private disputes public.
The final twist came late last Sunday evening (Oct 9), when Mercedes lodged a protest against one of Max Verstappen’s robust defensive manoeuvres against Hamilton in their duel for second, but Hamilton, apparently uninformed, took to Twitter to deride the “idiot” who propagated a story he believed to be false.
He later rescinded the tweet and rewrote it to read that he had told the team to drop its appeal on his orders – though the team denied this – further muddying the driver-manager boundaries.
The constructors championship may be won, but Mercedes could be only just beginning its most significant fight of the year.