Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton said Thursday he still had mixed feelings after being gift-wrapped a controversial win by Mercedes in Russia last weekend.
The runaway championship leader stretched his advantage to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to 50 points with just five races left this season after Mercedes ordered Valtteri Bottas to allow Hamilton to pass, sacrificing a rare victory for the Finn.
“I don’t think you get your mind around it,” said Hamilton.
“I am definitely split, just like all people have split opinions about it,” added the Briton.
“But it’s happened, it’s done and dusted. You have to accept it and move forwards.”
The decision by Mercedes to allow Hamilton to claim his eighth win of the season sparked fresh debate over team orders in Formula One, with many fans of the sport taking to social media to vent their anger.
Vettel called the move a “no-brainer” after finishing third in Sochi but Hamilton’s 70th Formula One victory left Mercedes squirming with embarrassment.
After the race, Hamilton described it as “the strangest day” of his career and he was clearly still torn after arriving in Japan.
“But collectively as a team we’ve stayed quite united through the whole experience,” he said.
Bottas was left fuming in Russia but the Finn was in a more charitable mood on Thursday.
“I just need to accept it now that I’m in this situation because of everything that has happened earlier in the season,” he said.
“I cannot fight for the championship anymore, Lewis is. I’m a team player and I’m willing to help.”
Bottas insisted that he would not have to wait for Hamilton to wrap up his fifth Formula One title before being allowed to take the chequered flag.
“I’m definitively still allowed to win but it will all depend on the situation,” he shrugged.
“I feel like a winner. Honestly I think last weekend, if Lewis didn’t have the (tyre) blister, if he didn’t have that much pressure from Sebastian, the team would have not done it. It will really be case by case.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said he was “happy to be the baddie” in order to strengthen Hamilton’s grip on the world championship.
And former world champion Fernando Alonso backed the Austrian’s decision on Thursday.
“All the bad stuff people are saying about Mercedes is just jealousy,” said the Spaniard.
“For them, what people say goes in one ear and out the other. They’re not doing anything wrong.”
Hamilton paid tribute to Bottas, pointing to the outpouring of love shown to his team mate on a visit to the Mercedes factory in Brackley, England, earlier this week.
“I was at the factory on Monday and I am sure 50 percent of the guys have the same vibe, but generally the support was quite amazing and also the respect for Valtteri,” he said.
“We all did a toast to Valtteri – 900 people or whatever it is were standing there, it was pretty awesome!”