While Valtteri Bottas took pole, Hamilton was only good enough for P5 on the grid, having had to abort his final run after a lacklustre first effort.
It was Hamilton’s worst qualifying performance of the season, but the Briton has seemingly been exonerated for the result.
He recovered to second place in the race, securing his sixth world drivers’ championship as a result, but the curious case of the Saturday slump was worth answering by the Silver Arrows.
“In qualifying three Lewis dropped back to fifth,” strategy chief James Vowles said in Mercedes’ YouTube debrief.
“During the course of the lap, underneath his right hand there’s a little rotary and that rotary adjusts the engine braking. Normally it has a guard on it and what happened is the guard had accidentally been knocked off; as he went through the lap, every time he turned the steering wheel, he accidentally changed the engine braking and that caused him to lose performance towards the end of the lap.
“A mechanic spotted it immediately, the second the car had come back in, but obviously that first run was compromised as a result.
“Come the second you run, you would have seen everyone went slower. The track in fact had slowed down slightly – small wind change, small track temperature change – and Lewis wasn’t now able to compete at the front, ultimately sealing his place as fifth on the grid.”