Lewis Hamilton accused Mercedes of surrendering third position in Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix and crucial points in his fight for a record-breaking eighth world championship.
Hamilton headed into Sunday’s race with a two-point advantage over Max Verstappen, but departed a grey and grizzly Istanbul six adrift of his Red Bull rival after finishing only fifth.
Valtteri Bottas took the chequered flag ahead of Verstappen, with Sergio Perez completing the podium.
Hamilton occupied third with eight laps to run, masterfully navigating his way from 11th without changing rubber on a damp track.
The Briton first resisted Mercedes’ decision to bring him in on lap 42 of 58. But with just eight laps to run, the seven-time world champion was ordered to stop for fresh tyres.
Hamilton was six seconds behind Verstappen and 11 ahead of Charles Leclerc, but he emerged from the pits a distant fifth, only just keeping Pierre Gasly behind. Hamilton was apoplectic with the decision.
“F***, man,” he yelled on the radio. “Why did you give up that space?” His race engineer Peter Bonnington replied: “It looked like we were going to lose position anyway.”
Hamilton struck back shouting: “We shouldn’t have come in, man. I told you.” Bonnington responded: “Copy, Lewis, we were losing time to Perez but we will chat about it later.”
After the chequered flag, Bonnington apologised to Hamilton.
“Ok, Lewis, so that is P5,” he said. “Sorry about that we will have to chat to you, talk you through the call.”
But Bonnington’s amende honorable was met with radio silence from the 36-year-old.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted his team botched Hamilton’s strategy, but feared leaving him out on worn rubber could drop him dramatically down the order, even out of the race.
But Esteban Ocon proved it was possible to make it to the end without changing tyres, crossing the line in 10th, and Mercedes’ conservative call lost Hamilton five points.
Could it be a decision which will cost Hamilton dearly in this ferocious title battle?
“Time will tell,” said Hamilton. “If I’d stayed out, we don’t know if I would have held position, but I’m a risk taker so I wanted to take that risk.
“It was frustrating at the time because I could see second and all of a sudden I’m back in fifth.
“It’s hard to give something up when you don’t have the full picture. You have to rely on your team and accept the choices they make and hope they’re the right ones. I’ve just got to try not to drop more points.”
Wolff added: “The whole season spins back and forth. Today was a very close call. We decided one way and it went wrong.
“In hindsight with all the information we had at the end, third is the best we could have achieved, so it is a five-point swing, but we need to walk away and say it was damage limitation for the weekend.
“It is going to be very tight until the end of the season. DNFs are going to make a big difference and that was another consideration today – not three or four or five-point swings.”
Hamilton qualified fastest here, but was thrown back 10 places after he incurred a grid penalty for taking on his fourth engine of the campaign.
The world champion hoped it would rain, and his wishes were answered with persistent drizzle in the hours before creating a damp track.
Fernando Alonso’s early spin elevated Hamilton one place to 10th, and by the end of the first lap he was ninth after he passed Sebastian Vettel at the chicane.
On lap eight, Hamilton put his Mercedes machine on the line with a fine move around the outside of Yuki Tsunoda at the left-hander third corner.
A lap later, he waltzed past Lance Stroll and then Lando Norris. Hamilton turned in a hat-trick of fastest laps before sailing past Gasly for fifth, with Perez seven seconds up the road.
By the end of lap 34, Perez was in striking range. Hamilton drew alongside Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate with the two drivers wheel-to-wheel.
Hamilton was marginally ahead going through Turn 13 only for Perez to retain the inside line and then out-brake the Mercedes man on the run down to Turn One.
It was a marker from Perez, clearly under instruction from Red Bull to ensure Hamilton did not get past. The leaders stopped for fresh tyres, promoting Hamilton to third only for Mercedes to order him in on lap 50.
Hamilton next heads to the US Grand Prix in Austin – a race he has won in five of his eight appearances – hopeful of regaining the championship lead with just six rounds remaining.