A furious Lewis Hamilton demanded answers from his Mercedes team after an engine failure cost him victory in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix and severely dented his chances of winning this year’s Formula One drivers’ championship.
Hamilton was leading with 16 of 56 laps remaining at the Sepang International Circuit when his engine blew in spectacular style, with flames shooting from the rear of the car.
It handed the race lead to Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who went on to take his first race victory since the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix, leading a one-two finish with his teenage teammate Max Verstappen.
More painfully, it gave Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg – who finished an impressive third – a 23-point lead in the championship. Rosberg had to fight back from 21st place after lap one when he was the innocent party in a collision with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
With five races left in the season, it will be difficult for Hamilton to make up the deficit to the ultra-consistent Rosberg in the championship fight. The frustrated Briton felt victimized by circumstances, and he hinted at perhaps more than that.
“My question is to Mercedes,” Hamilton said. “We have so many engines made for drivers, but mine are the only ones failing this year. Someone needs to give me some answers because this is not acceptable. We are fighting for the championship and only my engines are failing. It does not sit right with me. Someone doesn’t want me to win this year, but I won’t give up. I will keep pushing.”
Mercedes technical head Paddy Lowe was quick to defend the team. “This can be a very harsh sport but no failure is planned,” Lowe told television reporters, “But for some reason which is completely unrelated to any intention or any individual performance a number of things have gone on in Lewis’s car this year.” Hamilton later said he was referring to the “higher power” in his rant and reaffirmed his confidence in his team.
Red Bull and Ricciardo took a lucky victory, given the circumstances that afflicted the Mercedes pair, but were in the right place to capitalize and make up for the win the Australian felt robbed of in Monaco when a team pit-stop misunderstanding cost him victory.
“Told you I’d win one. Sometimes you just need things to swing your way,” said Ricciardo, whose tears during the Australian anthem played after the race mixed freely with the copious sweat generated in the tropical conditions, which generated track temperatures that consistently topped 50 degrees (122 F).
“It’s been an interesting, I would say, two years since my last victory and it feels awesome for sure. I am so grateful for it,” he said.
Ricciardo delighted many fans, and disgusted quite a few others, by celebrating victory with his newly adopted tradition of pouring the celebratory champagne into his sweaty race shoe and then drinking it _ something he calls the `Shoey’. Not only that, he also convinced team principal Christian Horner, plus Verstappen and Rosberg to also drink from the unconventional vessel.
Asked to comment on the flavor, Ricciardo said it had a fruity taste, but Rosberg deadpanned: “I hope he does not win any more races this year.”
Rosberg held onto third place despite incurring a ten-second penalty for an aggressive passing move on Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen on lap 38. Raikkonen finished fourth, extending Ferrari’s winless streak this season.
Williams driver Valtteri Bottas made a one-pit stop strategy work to take fifth place, as did Renault’s Jolyon Palmer who finished tenth for his first ever points finish in F1.
Force India’s Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg took sixth and eighth places respectively, separated by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who did well to finish seventh after starting the race from last on the grid. Alonso’s teammate Jenson Button was ninth in his 300th grand prix start.