Lewis Hamilton has claimed he ordered his Mercedes team to withdraw a protest that could have led to the Briton being promoted to second in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Mercedes lodged an official appeal to the FIA, the sport’s governing body, in protest at Max Verstappen’s driving in the closing stages of the Suzuka race. Hamilton, who now trails his team-mate Nico Rosberg by 33 points in the drivers’ championship, attempted to pass the Red Bull driver at the chicane on the penultimate lap. Verstappen moved to his right to defend the position, with Hamilton taking to the escape route.
In a bizarre series of events three hours after the chequered flag fell, Mercedes lodged a protest of the result citing “erratic” and “dangerous” driving from Verstappen. They also alleged that Hamilton was forced to take “evasive action”. The FIA then announced that the decision would be referred to the stewards at the next race in America, with neither Hamilton nor Verstappen still present at the track to provide evidence.
Hamilton, travelling on the former driver Niki Lauda’s private jet with the Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff from Nagoya to Vienna, then said in two confusing tweets that he called on his team to withdraw the appeal.
“There is no protest from either myself of Mercedes,” Hamilton tweeted from 40,000 feet, despite both the team and the FIA confirming an appeal had been put forward. “One idiot said we have but it’s not true. Max drove well, end of. We move on.”
Hamilton’s initial tweet was swiftly deleted, and it is unclear who the “one idiot” is that the Briton was referring to. Moments later, the FIA confirmed Mercedes had withdrawn their protest.
“There is no protest from myself,” Hamilton tweeted minutes later. “Just heard the team had but I told them it is not what we do. We are champions, we move on. End of!”
“I think after such a race, it is not the right moment to really put the finger where it hurts,” said Wolff, when asked if he and Lauda, the team’s nonexecutive chairman, will address Hamilton’s bizarre conduct in Japan. “We need to calm down, find out what happened, regroup, and my learning from the last couple of years is that 24 hours later things look different. Our main emphasis will be on building him up.”
Following poor starts in Australia, Bahrain, Canada and Monza, Hamilton was again painfully slow to get going in Suzuka. By the time he got down to turn one he had been passed by six drivers. Rosberg, who started from pole, had no such concerns as he retained the lead and never looked back.
“Sorry guys,” a downcast Hamilton said over the team radio.
“No stress, Lewis,” came the reply from his race engineer Pete Bonnington.
Hamilton, through a combination of strategy and passing moves, progressed to third, before he attempted to overtake Max Verstappen at the chicane on the penultimate lap. Verstappen blocked his route and Hamilton was forced to take to the escape path.
“Max moved under braking,” Hamilton complained, and his Mercedes team subsequently lodged the protest against the Dutch teenager.
Sebastian Vettel crossed the line in fourth ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo. The British rookie Jolyon Palmer finished 12th, while Jenson Button’s miserable weekend here culminated in him coming home a lowly 18th.