A defiant Lewis Hamilton vowed to “die before I give in” after his championship bid was dealt a severe blow following a car failure in qualifying for the German Grand Prix.
Hamilton will line up in only 14th place for the race, while Sebastian Vettel, whom he trails by eight points, heads the front of the grid.
Ferrari driver Vettel delivered a blistering time with his final throw of the dice to beat Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas to pole by 0.204 seconds, and take the cheers of the Hockenheim crowd.
It was yet another blow to an already crestfallen Hamilton, who now faces the real danger of losing further ground in their championship tussle.
By the time Vettel had marched to qualifying glory, Hamilton was out of his overalls, and reflecting on yet another Mercedes problem when he broke down with a loss of hydraulic pressure.
After he first resisted an instruction to stop, his Mercedes team fearing he may further damage his machinery, the desperate Englishman then got out and attempted to push his car more than one mile back to his garage in the hope that the issue could be resolved.
Within a matter of metres, however, it would dawn on Hamilton that his mission would be impossible. The clearly emotional Briton crouched over his car seemingly searching for answers following what may prove to be a pivotal championship moment.
Gloves off, but crash helmet on, Hamilton shook his head in disbelief. “I’ve never seen body language like this from Lewis,” his old foe Nico Rosberg mused from the Sky Sports commentary booth. “This is a huge setback.”
Hamilton was then on the back of a moped and heading to the Mercedes garage. From there, perhaps wounded by jeers from the partisan German fans, he would address the critics on social media.
“To those who take joy in seeing other people fail or suffer, I feel for you,” he said in a series of messages to his 6.7million Instagram followers. “Whatever is happening in your life to hold so much anger and hate, I pray that it passes and good things come to you.
“Nelson Mandela once said ‘We were not born with hate in our hearts. It is something learnt over time. But if we can learn to hate then we can be taught to love for love is far easier and more natural to the human heart.’
“Tomorrow, I can’t predict what’s to come. Good or bad I will die before I give in. All I can do is try to be the best me I can and drive like my life depends on it.”
Hamilton has now come unstuck at six of the 11 grands prix this season, following three mechanical failures, and three strategical errors.
Mercedes have ruled the sport with an unprecedented run of success since 2014, but facing their fiercest test from Ferrari, cracks have not only emerged, but are widening.
Later, when addressing the media from Mercedes’ motorhome, Hamilton insisted his team are not feeling the strain.
“I don’t find the problems alarming,” he said. “We work through whatever issues we are faced with.
“We have just been unfortunate and I don’t see anybody in this team being nervous, or under pressure. We perform better when under pressure.
“The car is under pressure, everything is on the limit, and sometimes these things happen. Ferrari have not had the problems we have had, but there is a long way to go. There is no excuse for these scenarios. We just have to work harder.”
Vettel added: “You don’t wish anything bad or something like a technical issue, which he had, to happen to anyone. It was a shame to see him go out and I mean it.”