The rumours are swirling after Lewis Hamilton’s troubled 2011 season took another twist in Korea. The 2008 world champion, recently locked in a dispute with Felipe Massa after a spate of incidents, did not return a radio message on Saturday after his engineer applauded his pole position.
“It is not obligatory to whoop,” said McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh.
But there is more to it than that. Hamilton, 26, did not wave after emerging from his cockpit in parc ferme, try to avoid a cameraman with his shoulder, smile once during the press conference, or raise his voice above a monotone.
The interviewer’s first question to the unshaved Briton was: “Is everything OK?”
His quiet answers did nothing to prevent the ensuing rumours.
The Independent’s David Tremayne believes Hamilton had a raging row with his McLaren bosses after Suzuka, where his on-form teammate Jenson Button won.
“There is talk among McLaren insiders of words being said in the aftermath of Suzuka that cannot be taken back”, he reported.
Correspondents for the Corriere dello Sport and O Estado de S.Paulo newspapers, meanwhile, claim Hamilton’s mood might be explained by his apparent joining of the controversial celebrity religion Scientology.
A tamer theory is that he is struggling to accept Jenson Button’s ascension to prominence at McLaren, a team he has been contracted to since childhood.
“I don’t think that relationship (with the team) has been affected by Jenson,” Hamilton is quoted by the Express newspaper.
Virgin team boss John Booth, who knows Hamilton well after running him in formulas Renault and F3, thinks the explanation is simpler still.
“My guess is this is just a little bit of pressure and he will relieve it with a win and he will be off again,” he said.
“It is like a striker having a non-scoring spell. It weighs on them heavily and then suddenly they score and keep on scoring. Lewis is one of the very best drivers out there.”