Mercedes chiefs have hit out at conspiracy theorists after Nico Rosberg claimed victory in front of Lewis Hamilton in the Russian Grand Prix, with the Brit suffering more reliability problems.
Niki Lauda labelled talks of the German team favouring Rosberg as “bull****”, while Toto Wolff called those questioning the professionalism of his outfit “lunatics”.
World champion Hamilton is now 43 points behind Rosberg following the German’s seventh successive win — a streak that stretches back to last season — and his fourth from as many races this year.
Hamilton started 10th after his engine expired in qualifying and encountered further problems as he began to reel Rosberg in.
Indeed, Hamilton was just over seven seconds adrift of Rosberg when he was informed of a problem with his engine. He subsequently crossed the line 25 seconds behind his team-mate.
Naturally, sceptics have suggested Mercedes are sabotaging Hamilton’s efforts to pave the way for Rosberg — a German driver — to win the championship for a German team.
But a dismissive Lauda said on Sky Sports: “I hate these talks because there are 1100 people who all try to do their best for both cars.
“Otherwise we would have never got here.”
Meanwhile a defiant Wolff said: “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 sending out those abusive messages. 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.”
Mercedes chartered a private jet packed with replacement parts from their Brixworth base to ensure Hamilton was not further penalised with a pit-lane start. The jet touched down in Sochi at 2am with Hamilton’s mechanics working through the night to enable him to take part in Sunday’s race.
“They are doing their utmost because Lewis is so important to us and we don’t want this to happen,” Wolff continued.
“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.”
Hamilton, whose title defence has been riddled by problems largely no fault of his own, was up to fifth at the end of a frantic opening lap.
On lap four, Hamilton eased past Felipe Massa and then overtook Kimi Raikkonen on lap seven. After the only round of pit-stops, the world champion moved up to second after despatching Valtteri Bottas, and got to within eight seconds of Rosberg before his charge was halted by a water leak with 16 laps remaining.
“In any sport, or any situation, the easiest thing is to jump to the negative,” Hamilton said.
“I just want to assure them that my guys are doing a fantastic job and it’s not their fault. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I could win it. I had the pace but then I had a problem with the engine again, so I had to back off.”