Mercedes deny any suggestion of scheming against Lewis Hamilton

Briton’s comments grist to the mill of the conspiracy theorists prior to Japanese F1 GP

Lewis Hamilton: “Something doesn’t feel right. Somebody, or someone, doesn’t want me to win this year.” Photograph: Yuya Shinoyuya Shino/AFP/Getty

Mercedes have hit back at claims of foul play by insisting "anyone with an ounce of intelligence" knows they would not sabotage Lewis Hamilton's car.

Hamilton is 23 points adrift of his title rival and team-mate Nico Rosberg with just five races remaining – starting at this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix – after he suffered another engine failure last Sunday.

The Briton was on course to win in Malaysia and take back control of the title race, only for his engine to blow up with 15 laps remaining.

A furious Hamilton, who trailed Rosberg in both practice sessions in Suzuka on Friday, appeared to hint at a conspiracy theory. "Something doesn't feel right," he said. "Somebody, or someone, doesn't want me to win this year."


Hamilton, 31, later insisted he was referring to a “higher power”, but the apparent message of foul play stirred his legion of fans to believe that Mercedes were conspiring against him.

"I can't agree with you that the driver thinks it is sabotage," said the Mercedes technical chief, Paddy Lowe.

“Lewis has been very clear, certainly with us, that is completely out of the question, and anyone with an ounce of intelligence would realise that the prospect of us designing a system that would cause a big-end bearing to fail at that precise point in the race [is not correct].

“If we were that good we would win everything and control everything at every point. If we were good enough to arrange such sabotage we wouldn’t have any failures.”

Hamilton’s latest setback in Sepang marked his third engine failure of the season. In contrast, Rosberg has endured no major mechanical dramas.

Lowe added: “We all know that you can throw three double sixes in a row, yet when you see it done you wonder how it happened. We have eight engines running around out there, and with the exception of one failure, they have all fallen to Lewis. That is something that none of us can really understand, but it is the way the dice have been thrown.”

Hamilton courted criticism in Suzuka on Thursday after he fooled around on Snapchat throughout a bizarre televised drivers’ press conference and the Briton’s hopes of wrestling the initiative back from Rosberg got off to a sluggish start after he finished behind the German in practice here.

Rosberg maintained his psychological advantage over Hamilton when he won both of yesterday’s practice runs. In the morning session Rosberg was 0.215sec faster than Hamilton. Hamilton complained about a lack of power but said later: “I am very happy with the car. There is time for me to find in myself, and that is what I have got to try and unlock tonight.”

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel was third, a full 1.094 behind Rosberg, with his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen fourth.

Hamilton narrowed the gap in the afternoon session, to just 0.072. Rosberg appeared worried when smoke billowed from the rear of his engine as he prepared to go out but the German – and his car – soon put that behind him to set the fastest time at that stage.

Hamilton, on hard rubber tyres, came out to beat that time but then Rosberg returned on soft tyres to deliver a time of 1min 32.250sec that would remain the best of the day.

The Ferraris switched their positions, with Raikkonen coming third and Vettel fourth. Daniel Ricciardo was 12th, though he was using the slower, harder tyres.

McLaren's Jenson Button was 16th in the order, two places ahead of the British rookie Jolyon Palmer in a Renault.