The detonation of Lewis Hamilton’s powerunit during the Malaysian Grand Prix had the man himself, his fans and much of the British media crying foul. But a look back at recent F1 history demonstrates there is nothing suspicious or premeditated about it.
Somebody doesn’t want me to win – Hamilton
Make no mistake Lewis Hamilton’s comments post-retirement in Malaysia were controversial. The three-time world champion implied – not particularly subtly – that persons unknown were hell-bent on derailing his quest for a fourth world title.
The finger was indirectly pointed at the various mechanical failures he has experienced this season. According to Hamilton these are failures only he has suffered relative to his team-mate Nico Rosberg plus the cars of Williams, Force India and Manor. Aside from the complexity of being able to remotely suicide a powerunit at the most inconvenient moment, it ignores the bittersweet nature of sport in general.
The commentators curse
You do not need to know your F1 history inside out to realize that chance has a way of showing at exactly the wrong moment. Ask Nigel Mansell about the tyre that decided to explode as he cruised to the 1986 World title in Adelaide. Or ask Damon Hill’s about why his broken suspension broke but Michael Schumacher’s did not when they clashed in the same city in 1994. What about Ferrari’s duff strategy calls that cost Fernando Alonso at least one world title? Bringing us right up to date, consider the electronic gremlins that blighted Nico Rosberg during the Abu Dhabi championship show-down of 2014. Sadly these things tend to happen at the most inconvenience moment. And the drama is part of the reason people love sport.
The Hamilton conspiracy theories
Throughout this season Hamilton has pointed to changes like the unexplained ‘switch’ of crews during the off season as hinting at something unsavory. The irony of course being that Mercedes did so to prevent accusations of favoritism towards Hamilton.
It all reminds me of a similar situation back in 2000. Then an immensely talented British rookie called Jenson Button was making his debut for Williams. Partnered alongside Ralf Schumacher, the pair were the first to enjoy the soon-to-be F1 benchmark BMW engines. But there was a problem.
During the first half of the season Button’s BMW engines blew up with monotonous regularity. This was in stark contrast to his German team-mate who seemed relatively failure-free. Then, as now, the British media dipped in to their book of ‘101 F1 conspiracy theories’ and concluded something heinous was afoot.
Despite Button driving for a British team, William’s German engine partner was up to something. The media assumed that there could not be any other conclusion – logical or otherwise: BMW wanted Schumacher to win, not Button.
Debunking the conspiracy
Of course it turned out to be a load of bollocks. Patrick Head – Williams co-founder – sick of fielding questions about conspiracies set out the reality of the situation. It was about driving styles.
Schumacher’s technique favoured foot braking over engine breaking. Button by contrast was the exact opposite – gentle on brakes, hard on engine breaking. The young rookie was tearing through the BMW engines for that reason alone. There was no big red button in BMW’s HQ in Munich. No predetermined agreement on who should win.
Lewis may still win the 2016 world title. He has plenty of chances to do so. A similar DNF for Rosberg in just one of the final 5 races could put Hamilton back on level-terms or even back in the lead. So for now Lewis and his legion of fans should leave the conspiracy theories to the journos and the tin-foil hat brigade.