Thomas Maher: Bad luck and reliability issues have derailed many a Formula 1 title bid

Misfortune has dented Lewis Hamilton's bid for a third world title in a row in 2016

Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain leaves his car after an engine failure during the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix at the Sepang International Circuit in Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Brian Ching)

A Malaysian Grand Prix that looked to be a straightforward walk around the palm trees for Lewis Hamilton turned into a nightmare with all the hard work done. Lewis Hamilton’s grasp on a third successive title weakens.

He’s not out of it by any means, but Hamilton’s late race engine failure has certainly put a serious dent to ambitions of winning his fourth World Championship. Having taken a convincing pole position after a strong Friday preparation day, any question marks over his form following a low-key Singapore weekend were banished. A good start meant that particular concern was no longer, and Nico Rosberg getting tagged and spun at Turn 1 just served as icing on the cake for Hamilton. His minor points deficit to Rosberg was going to be demolished.

That was, until the power unit failed on Lap 41 as he powered down the main straight while trying to pull away sufficiently from the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen to make another pit-stop. The Bulls have come on in leaps and bounds this season, and are starting to apply the pressure to Mercedes when outright power isn’t as large a concern. With the Malaysian circuit suiting a nimble chassis and strong aerodynamic values, the RB12 was almost a match for the Merc, with Hamilton having to push as hard as he can to pull away.

Unlike in 2014 and 2015, when Mercedes seemed to always have plenty in reserve, they now appear to be having to operate much closer to the upper limit of their performance window. As a result, problems are starting to seep through. Both Hamilton and Rosberg have had problems, although Hamilton’s have proven to be more damaging.

While Rosberg has had more problems with the likes of brakes and gearboxes during the races, Hamilton has taken grid penalties for engine component changes as well as this high profile engine failure. As a result, conspiracy theories are everywhere. This season’s switch of team mechanics between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton has been brought up, but the mechanics in the garage aren’t responsible for the ground-up building of the Internal Combustion Engine which failed on Hamilton’s car. While F1 can be a seedy business, internal sabotage is nigh-on impossible, especially with the very visible data trails that the cars and individual parts would have.

More likely, it’s just plain bad luck for Hamilton. It happens. Without bad luck and an unreliable Mercedes engine, Kimi Raikkonen would be a three time world champion. Without the engine failure with three laps to go at Hungary ’08, Massa would be a Champion. Had Nigel Mansell’s tyre lasted 19 laps more at Adelaide ’86, he would have won that title. Mika Hakkinen at USA 2000, Michael Schumacher at Japan 2006, even Luca Badoer’s blow-up while running P4 for Minardi at Nurburgring ’99 – these are all moment where bad luck struck, and the drivers just had to suck it up. Hamilton abandoning his “we win and lose together” mentality when his car fails him just reflects badly on him. Especially when his reliability record is the highest of any world champion ever.

There’s also been talk that Rosberg is ‘lucking’ into this title, and there is truth to that. Luck plays a part in every title, especially when it comes to being in the right place at the right time. And to pretend that Rosberg hasn’t been top drawer this season would be doing him a massive disservice. While Hamilton has had the better of him at several races this year, Rosberg has been just as imperious at several of his own. Had Rosberg not been tagged by Vettel at Turn 1 in Malaysia, who’s to say that Nico couldn’t have fought Lewis every step of the way on Sunday?

This piece by Thomas Maher appeared on Formula Spy. Read the full article here.