Faltering world champion Lewis Hamilton showed further signs of frustration with Mercedes after seeing his hopes of retaining the title recede again at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday.
The team lodged a complaint about Max Verstappen’s “dangerous” driving after the Red Bull teenager held off Hamilton for second place at Suzuka – a result which left the Briton 33 points behind team-mate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ standings with just four races left.
But Hamilton quickly contradicted and appeared to criticise Mercedes, writing on social media: “There is no protest from either myself of Mercedes. One idiot said we have but it’s not true. Max drove well, end of. We move on.”
That outburst, which he later deleted, was the latest exhibition of Hamilton’s disgruntlement in recent days.
He boycotted reporters on Saturday in protest at perceived persecution, while last week’s engine failure while leading in Malaysia prompted him to revisit suggestions that Mercedes might be favouring Rosberg.
The German, by contrast, enjoyed a drama-free weekend in Japan, clinching a fourth win from five races that means he is likely to land a maiden world title if he avoids retirement in the remaining grands prix.
His ninth victory of the season also ensured Mercedes won the constructors’ championship for a third year in succession.
Hamilton, who is chasing his fourth crown, added: “I’ll give it everything I’ve got as I did in the race and we’ll see what happens.”
The Englishman started second on the grid but a poor start saw him slip to eighth.
He battled his way through the field but found Verstappen a stubborn opponent and the Dutchman repelled Hamilton’s manoeuvres.
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel answered his Ferrari critics by finishing fourth ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
McLaren pair Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were 16th and 18th on a disappointing weekend for the team at the home race of engine partner Honda.