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Analysis: Mercedes F1 sets a precedent with open letter to conspiracy theorists

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Analysis: Mercedes F1 sets a precedent with open letter to conspiracy theorists
May 4, 2016, 3:47 PM

Mercedes has taken the unusual step of issuing an open letter to fans after the internet was lit up for several days by conspiracy theories over Le...

Mercedes has taken the unusual step of issuing an open letter to fans after the internet was lit up for several days by conspiracy theories over Lewis Hamilton's continued technical problems. The world champion now lies 43 points behind his team mate and rival Nico Rosberg with 17 races to go.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff tried to dismiss conspiracy theories in Sochi by declaiming people who lie on their bed typing into a lap top, but clearly the team has been taking a lot of heat via its social media channels from many Hamilton fans who don't buy it and think that there is a plot to do their man down and give Rosberg the championship.

It's true that Hamilton himself leaves the door open for speculation in the way that he addresses the media at times like Sunday night, raising questions about personnel changes on his car this season.

Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes' problems are curious and the fact that they mostly appear to be happening to Hamilton is certainly unfortunate. The team focussed its winter testing on reliability, pounding around Barcelona on medium compound tyres and not bothering with performance, unlike Ferrari.

The hope that Ferrari was close to Mercedes on performance has turned out to be a false dawn; a new Ferrari upgrade package for Sochi, including aerodynamic parts and tokens used on the engine, was easily matched by Mercedes and the gap remained at around half a second. This is demoralising for Ferrari. If it happens again in the next few months, it will increase the pressure in Maranello and play to Mercedes' advantage.

The fact is that Mercedes got a maximum 43 point score in Russia despite two serious problems for Hamilton in qualifying and the race and a problem for Rosberg.

Vettel was eliminated by an early collision, but Raikkonen failed to outqualify Bottas and then didn't have the race pace to keep Hamilton behind him.

Mercedes' letter reminds everyone of this, reminding Ferrari that they were comfortably beaten on Sunday by one car with no water pressure (Hamilton's) and another which had MGU-K issues and yet Rosberg, "put in the fastest lap on the penultimate lap of the race.. still in that 'safe' setting – demonstrating just how much pace the car had last weekend."

Take that, Ferrari.

However the main thrust of the letter is a mea culpa that reliability isn't good enough and although they don't explicitly say that they wouldn't do anything to hold Hamilton back, that is the subtext.

Nico Rosberg

JA on F1 Analysis

My own view is that, while it might suit Mercedes for Rosberg to win the championship this season, they would not do anything to bring that about by any means other than between the two men on the race track. It's just not feasible to suggest that a team at that level would sabotage one of its own cars. Think back to Singapore 2008 and the crash gate scandal. A few people have to be in on conspiracies and sooner or later the truth would get out. For that to happen to a company like Mercedes would cause enormous damage, would lead to a forced withdrawal from a prestigious and lucrative racing series and a stain on the brand's image.

If Rosberg gets a title to go along with the two Hamilton already won, then great. But it will happen on the track not with some conspirators in the back of a garage.

It may not be obvious to fans, because of Hamilton's problems, but Rosberg has actually raised his game this season in qualifying and race conditions and is a very different driver from the one of 2014. Fans will see that when the pair get a chance to compete on equal terms, hopefully soon. For that reason he will take some stopping now, with a 43 point lead, even if there is a long way to go.

The letter is an interesting response and quite an emotional one for a corporate entity, which demonstrates the nature of Toto Wolff's stewardship of the team.

It also sets a precedent; if you write an open letter to fans over an issue like this, then they will expect one on other topics and at other crisis moments. That can be a double edged sword.

Whilst it may have been motivated by exasperation in the first instance, it's a good thing to do in a number of ways as it shows that they care about what the fans think and that their other fan connectivity efforts are not social media window dressing.

Nico Rosberg

Extract from Mercedes' letter to fans

"We were baffled and gutted by the repeat MGU-H failure on Lewis' car in qualifying. But we kept calm, gathered our thoughts and sprung into action. It took a monumental effort from a significant number of people back in the UK and in Russia to fly spare parts out to the track, fit them to the spare Power Unit by working through the night and make sure Lewis could start from P10 on Sunday without having broken parc fermé. This made Sunday all the more stressful for each of us. But, in the end, we were relieved just to get both cars to the flag.

Shortly after his pit stop, we saw some alarming behaviour from Nico's MGU-K. We spent a number of laps reassuring him that he had a good gap over Lewis and could ease off before the FIA gave us the all-clear to tell him to switch to a setting that would control the issue. At the wheel, Nico wouldn't have had any inkling of the stress on the pit-wall. When he put in the fastest lap on the penultimate lap of the race, he was still in that 'safe' setting – demonstrating just how much pace the car had last weekend.

Not long after Nico's issue arose, we started to see the water pressure falling on Lewis' car. At the time, he was pushing hard to catch Nico and pull away from Kimi – posting several purple lap times in the process. Again, we needed to await confirmation from the FIA of what we could tell him via the radio. After several calls asking him to take it easy, the all-clear came to let him know that he was losing water pressure. With zero – yes, zero! – water pressure remaining for the last 16 laps, the job he did to nurse the car home and still retain second place was truly remarkable. He had to keep the car as cool as possible to avoid damaging the engine whilst also keeping Kimi at a safe distance, which was no mean feat. We genuinely aren't sure by what miracle the car limped across the line – but we're certainly not going to complain!

Ultimately, none of this changes the fact that we have not met our own expectations in terms of reliability so far this season."
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Series Formula 1
Drivers Lewis Hamilton Shop Now
Teams Mercedes Shop Now