Mercedes-Benz have a word for conspiracy theorists who suspected sabotage as they watched Lewis Hamilton encounter yet more mechanical trouble during a dogged drive to second in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix: lunatics.
Suspicions ran wild after Hamilton’s litany of misfortune was compounded by a problem the world champion believes prevented him challenging Nico Rosberg for victory, despite starting in 10th place.
Fuel has been added to the fire by Mercedes’ decision before the season to swap some of the mechanics round on both cars.
But having seen the hurt these accusations were causing to his staff, Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss, decided enough was enough, furiously hitting out at those criticising the team.
“I think it is very difficult to take people seriously out there when they are lying on their beds with their laptops on their chests and they are sending out those abusive messages,” Wolff said.
“Of course we don’t do it deliberately. The team has been abused in some of the social media and conspiracy theories are out there. My response to this is that I don’t want to ignore this bunch of lunatics who think that we would harm our driver who has been a double world champion for us."
Putin and Bernie help out
The strength of feeling was added to by the extraordinary lengths Mercedes employed to bring spare parts for Hamilton’s engine overnight on Saturday in time for Sunday’s race. A chartered private plane, organised in part by Niki Lauda, the three-time champion and team chairman, landed in Sochi at 2am.
It cleared customs in seconds, thanks both to Nicole Bearne, the Russian-speaking assistant to the team’s technical director, Paddy Lowe, and Bernie Ecclestone, who is thought to have smoothed things over with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s entourage.
Then the engineers worked through the night; all to enable another Mercedes one-two.
Wolff added: “He [Hamilton] hasn’t let us down and we wouldn’t let him down. This is a mechanical sport and these things happen. Lewis has won two championships with this team. You wonder what goes through people’s minds.
“The reason why I am being vocal about it is that I want to protect those guys because they are being hit by comments that are inexcusable, unfair and outright abusive without reason. Some of the guys might read those comments and take it personally.”
Despondent after seeing the gap to his team-mate widen to 43 points after just four races, Hamilton was also quick to scotch talk of wild theories.
His drive was a gutsy and determined one, avoiding the Daniil Kvyat-induced chaos of the first corner to move himself into contention having started in the midfield (again, due to mechanical problems in qualifying).
He was fifth after one lap. Then his race craft was as superb as ever, scything through the pack.Despite being held up by Valtteri Bottas for 10 laps, at one stage he was just seven seconds behind Rosberg before a water leak forced him to back off. Then it was game over.
In the end, Rosberg, who was worried about engine troubles of his own, coasted to a seventh consecutive victory, in the process becoming only the fourth man in history to achieve such a feat.
It is astonishing how smoothly this start to the season has gone for the German. He has still not had to make a genuine overtaking move and has a sizeable advantage.
The 30-year-old can finish the next six races in second place behind Hamilton and still lead a championship that is his to lose.
Hamilton's barrage of bad luck
Hamilton has been admirably stoic, despite his troubles, but signs of frustration are creeping in. The three-time champion was annoyed not to have been emailed the full -report of what went wrong with his engine at the last race in China.
He is suffering a great barrage of bad luck but he would still not have any talk of conspiracy.
“Firstly, the people saying that are feeling the same pain I’m feeling,” he said.
“We’re in this together, so they’re feeling the hurt and emotions you go through because we’re connected in that way. In any sport or any situation the easiest thing is to jump to the negative and I just want to assure them that my guys are doing a fantastic job and it’s not their fault."
There could well be more trouble down the track, but these are tomorrow’s problems. What this lively race also proved, other than luck has not yet turned Hamilton’s way, is that Ferrari are still not up to the challenge.
Sebastian Vettel did not have the chance to show what he could do after Kvyat did for him, but Kimi Raikkonen did, coming third, well behind the Mercedes.
McLaren had both cars in the points for the first time since Hungary last year, with Fernando Alonso a creditable sixth. Just behind, Renault scored their first points of the year through Kevin Magnussen, although his team-mate, Jolyon Palmer, was six places further back in 13th. Hamilton is not the only Englishman with a tall order on his hands.