A difficult Japanese Grand Prix weekend for McLaren has ended in embarrassing fashion with Lewis Hamilton wrongly criticising team-mate Jenson Button on Twitter.
Button and Hamilton could only finish fourth and fifth at Suzuka on Sunday as McLaren struggled for pace relative to the stunning performance of the Red Bulls.
Sebastian Vettel cruised to the win to narrow Fernando Alonso’s Formula One championship lead to four points.
Hamilton did at least trim ten points off his own deficit to Alonso after the Ferrari driver failed to finish, but it was a challenging weekend all round for the Woking-based team.
The race was the first since Hamilton’s move to Mercedes was confirmed and that, understandably, was the major topic of paddock discussion, even allowing for Michael Schumacher’s retirement announcement.
The Briton tried to dodge questions on the reasons for his decision during an FIA press conference last Thursday, much to the disgruntlement of the gathered media. But he had no place to hide after he took Button to task on Twitter, having been led to believe his team-mate had stopped following him on the social media site.
In a series of tweets on his official feed, which has around 1.1 million followers, Hamilton said: “Just noticed @jensonbutton unfollowed, thats a shame. After 3 years as teammates, I thought we respected one another but clearly he doesn’t.
“Funny thing is, we are STILL teammates! All good tho, I plan on giving this team & fans all I got til I cross the finish line in brazil!!!”
But the 27-year-old was left red-faced when he realised Button did not follow his Twitter account in the first place.
That led him to tweet: “My bad, just found out Jenson never followed me. Don’t blame him! Need to be on Twitter more!”
Hamilton’s comments can only have left Button unimpressed, and could put a strain on a working relationship that, while seen as being largely harmonious, has been known to be tense.
Hamilton’s Twitter climbdown is not the first time he has mis-stepped on the social networking site.
At the Belgian Grand Prix he posted a picture of the telemetry from his and Button’s qualifying laps, which the team quickly told him to remove due to the sensitive nature of the data. On that occasion Button said he was “disappointed”.
On the track things were not a great deal better. Having had the quickest car at the previous four races, McLaren will have been concerned about how Red Bull turned the tables to dominate in Japan.
But team principal Martin Whitmarsh believes it is Ferrari and Alonso who are the ones under the most pressure after seeing their championship lead all but wiped out.
Whitmarsh, speaking before Hamilton’s Twitter outburst, said: “Let’s be positive about it. I guess Fernando will be going home more unhappy than most, he is under pressure, more pressure frankly from Sebastian than from us, but we have closed that gap again and we have five races to go.
“This was not the most sterling performance from us and in those situations you have to go back, look at what you are doing on the car, and make sure we get it as good as we can in Korea. Both our guys are capable of winning races and we have five left.
“Red Bull were on form here and at the moment Ferrari are under some pressure from us and Red Bull, and if they have some big updates they may be able to change that position, but obviously I don’t know.”