Another win for Hamilton would have kept alive his chances of equalling the record for the most wins in a season: 13. But the three-times world champion was called into the pits for fresh tyres two-thirds of the way through the race when he was leading Rosberg by 18 seconds and he still believes he could have driven on to win. He questioned the instruction at the time but eventually complied.
When Hamilton was asked afterwards if he had been called in to help Rosberg, who had already made a second stop, he said: “I know the team has felt the need to be extra warm…” He trailed off.
What did he mean? “I do know what I mean but I’m not going to say what I mean,” he added. “You should ask Toto [Wolff, Mercedes’ motorsport director] and Niki [Lauda, the non-executive chairman]. You should put those questions to them about how they feel about it. What they have to do behind the scenes to keep him happy.”
Rosberg was furious with Hamilton for being “too aggressive” on the first corner in the US Grand Prix a week earlier – Hamilton went on to win the race and his third world title. And when Rosberg earned pole for the Mexico race Wolff explained the driver’s qualifying pace with one word: “Anger.”
After Sunday’s race a clearly frustrated Hamilton said: “There was no risk, there was nothing for me to lose. We have won the constructors’ championship, the team have won, so let me take a risk, let’s go for it. I didn’t agree with the decision but the team make decisions and I abide by them most of the time. We’ll have a chat when I get back. I have full confidence in those guys.”
Rosberg’s fourth win of the season, at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, was fully deserved because he drove a fast, solid race and his car appeared to have been better set up than Hamilton’s. But the British driver felt he could have snatched victory with a one-stop strategy.
Rosberg had been called in for a second change of tyres on the 46th lap. On the following lap Hamilton was told to come in by his race engineer, Peter Bonnington. “Can I ask why?” Hamilton replied.
Bonnington said the team were worried about tyre wear. Then his tone became more serious. “So, Lewis, you will be boxing next lap,” he said. Hamilton replied: “You need to check his [Rosberg’s] tyres,” he said. “My tyres are all good.”
Bonnington, increasingly emphatic, said: “So, Lewis, we were down to zero on the first set. If we run longer on this set we will be down to zero if not worse so box at the end of this lap – instruction.” Hamilton replied: “I think that’s the wrong call but I’m coming in.”
If Hamilton had stayed out he would have driven 43 laps on one set of tyres. But he may well have done so, while holding off a gaining Rosberg on fresher rubber.
To add to Hamilton’s frustrations Sebastian Vettel’s crash meant the safety car was brought out on lap 52. That would have given Hamilton the chance to come in and rejoin the race, possibly in the lead. He has shown before he is capable of standing up to Mercedes. In Hungary last year he ignored their instruction to let Rosberg by, a move that led to the notorious crash between the two at Spa.
Hamilton added: “I had the pace but ultimately I didn’t choose the right set-up. Nico drove really well. No mistakes.” He added mischievously: “No gusts of wind.”
Rosberg said: “All the puzzle pieces fell into place. The whole weekend went really well from the first lap onwards. I got the set-up right. I nailed that. I did a great job with the engineers. Pole, getting to turn one first, all these things count.”
It did not work out for Hamilton on the track but otherwise he had a deeply impressive day, showing the confidence initially to question his team’s decisions before falling into line. He did not win but he looked a total champion.
Mercedes’ first priority was to confirm another one-two victory. But in not allowing Hamilton to race as he wanted to they also denied F1 fans a potentially thrilling finish.
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