Lewis Hamilton’s won the last two Formula 1 World Championships and three overall, but the Mercedes AMG Petronas driver’s chances at his first career title three-peat have taken a hit following a third place finish in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Hamilton went into Suzuka, a place he’s won the last two years, needing to win his third straight at the circuit to regain any momentum versus teammate Nico Rosberg and cut into his 23-point deficit.
He leaves the race now 33 points back, having had to play catch-up during the race as he recovered from eighth back to third, while Rosberg won again.
Hamilton’s race pretty much went away from him before it even got going. He bogged down off the line from second on the grid, which was surprising to witness considering it looked as though his grid position was cleared from earlier dampness.
Anyway, the Englishman fell to eighth by Turn 1, and hadn’t even moved forward one spot until a few laps later when he dispatched of Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India.
Where Hamilton got ahead of Sergio Perez, Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen was on the first pit stop sequence, getting up to fourth after switching from softs onto hards.
Hamilton then jumped Sebastian Vettel for a podium position in the final pit sequence, just past halfway, with the pivotal decision by his team to keep him on hards while Ferrari gambled to put Vettel on softs. Vettel was faster initially but lost the pace, while Hamilton set sail looking to catch Max Verstappen, and came up short.
Hamilton didn’t have much to say on the podium but did say thanks to his crew for their efforts, as he helped Mercedes clinch its third straight Constructor’s Championship. He was much more succinct about the start.
“Firstly, a big thank you to everyone who came out. So thankful for this team to get them points, congrats to everyone at the factory at Brixworth and whole of Mercedes,” Hamilton said.
“I did the best I could with where I was in the race. I’ll give it everything I got and we’ll see what happens (from here),” he added.
Hamilton expanded in a separate post-race interview with NBCSN’s Will Buxton.
“Yeah it was from the get-go, lots of wheel spin. I lost ground as everyone else gained traction. Could have been the wet patch but in general, the getaway was not good,” he admitted.
“It was really hard. There wasn’t a lot I could do. I didn’t have the pace in front of me so I didn’t try to attack them. The second half I could put better times in. After that, generally happy with it.”
Vettel and Ricciardo told Buxton post-race they figured Hamilton had had an issue on the damp line of the track, and that was why he fell back.
“It was a fantastic start… too good again! I couldn’t make use of it. Lewis had an issue,” Vettel explained.
Ricciardo added, “The Raikkonen gearbox penalty was the opposite of a blessing in disguise. It put me in the wet side of the grid. And Hamilton suffered a bit with the wet patch.”
Vettel said of his team’s call to try to beat Hamilton, “We tried to do something else to increase our chances at the end. A risk we took but it didn’t come up.”
Hamilton nearly edged ahead of Verstappen, but opted not to comment on when he ran wide at the Casio Triangle as he hadn’t seen the replay. He did admit his engine power was at full tilt.
“I was at max chat on my engine, so I didn’t go up anymore,” Hamilton told Buxton. “But at the end Nico was cruising. He had a Sunday drive after getting the gap.
“I don’t feel like commenting on it (Max). It didn’t feel ideal at the time, but I’ll watch the replay. Fortunately we didn’t hit and we move forwards.”
Hamilton now sits 33 points with four races remaining, and his championship destiny is out of his hands.
Even if he wins out, the most points he could gain would be 28 if Rosberg finished second in each.
It caps off a second successive frustrating weekend for Hamilton, whose weekend began with “Snapchat-gate” as he used the social media app during Thursday’s press conference, featured a media conference walkout on Saturday and then today’s race.