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Weekend Debate: Did Mercedes' open letter to F1 fans work?

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Weekend Debate: Did Mercedes' open letter to F1 fans work?
May 7, 2016, 2:49 PM

This has been an eventful week for F1 with two highly unusual happenings in quick succession; Red Bull dropping Daniil Kvyat in favour of Max Verst...

This has been an eventful week for F1 with two highly unusual happenings in quick succession; Red Bull dropping Daniil Kvyat in favour of Max Verstappen and Mercedes feeling moved to write an open letter to fans asking them to believe that they would never sabotage Lewis Hamilton's car.

Neither of these things happens every day in F1. We've covered the Kvyat story in detail, but the open loop is to examine whether the tactic of writing an open letter to fans worked out well for Mercedes.

Many in F1 were surprised by the tactic, but mostly in a positive way, while Mercedes themselves were surprised by the amount and nature of the messages they had been getting to their social media accounts in the days after the Russian Grand Prix, where Hamilton suffered more reliability issues.

They felt compelled to act.

Hamilton has yet to finish the opening lap of a Grand Prix this season in a front running position.

Hamilton's equivocal statements in Russia had certainly left room for doubt; telling the Sky Sports cameras that he did not understand why his mechanics had been swapped from last year. It was reminiscent of the aftermath of Monaco last year, where a strategy error by him and his team led to him losing the race to Rosberg.

The reaction on this site and elsewhere seems to indicate that Mercedes' open letter tactic seems to have worked. There have been many comments which suggest that, when confronted with a manufacturer-backed team asking fans to take a moment to reflect on whether they would do such a thing, they have done just that.

But whether or not you believe that there is no conspiracy, what underlies this subject is the feeling that the continued domination of Mercedes is the real problem.

Lewis Hamilton

We had almost 300 comments on the topic on this site, some examples were:

Formula Zero: "When you analyze the facts over the past 3 seasons, Nico have had more issues than Lewis. I think Mercedes felt like releasing the open letter because Lewis has more fans, which I think is a terrible reason. Also as James said, Lewis doesn't say anything to squash the rumour anyway. If anything, he inflames it. If you watch the post race analysis from Sky's coverage they all agree that Lewis doesn't get along with the other drivers & very isolated figure amongst drivers. As a neutral fan, this another bad championship regardless of which Mercedes driver win in the end. There is no competition between teams or drivers at the top of the table. Mercedes' performance making Red Bull's domination look very attractive."

Woody had a different view: "I've certainly got a lot more confidence in the possibility of Hamilton catching Rosberg than the other way around so I'm looking forward to a good fight this season. There's a long way to go."

Meanwhile Andy Fov admits: "I'm still cynical enough to believe that they didn't want Lewis chasing down Nico at the end. I'm not saying they're favouring Nico, but when you've got a safe one-two on the cards you don't need to jeopardise it, and subsequent race performance on the same engines, by having your drivers race harder than they need to.

"Even now I wouldn't be surprised if it transpired that Lewis didn't really have a water pressure problem. It wouldn't bother me either way, I expect a bit of implausible flannel from team principals, it's part and parcel of the sport."

Of course there are plenty of fans who are not won over by this open letter approach and continue to smell a rat. The problem is the perception that things are often 'arranged' in F1. The Singapore crash conspiracy of 2008 certainly did a lot to foster that impression.

Nigel Stepney

Another example is the curious case of Nigel Stepney, former chief mechanic at Ferrari in the Schumacher years. He played a part in the 2007 Spygate scandal, whereby he passed intellectual property relating to the design and operation of Ferrari F1 cars to McLaren designer Mike Coughlan, a scandal that culminated in McLaren being fined US $100 million by the FIA, then under the presidency of Max Mosley.

In another of the more curious episodes of recent times, he was also accused by Ferrari of trying to sabotage one of the cars by putting powder in the fuel tank.

The whiff of intrigue never far from the surface in F1 and the prevalance of social media now, allows a narrative to develop well beyond the control of the team and of the sport itself.

The missing piece of the jigsaw in trying to calm the Mercedes debate was support from the driver himself.

Finally, at the end of the week, Hamilton sent his own message to his fans, "I want you to know how grateful I am for all of your support. I'd like to ask that you please trust in my team, as I do. This is my family.

"These guys have been the greatest, hardest working people for me, and that is why I am now three times World Champion.

"Please don't put any more thought into my team doing anything unjust towards me, and understand that it would be in no-one's best interest for that to be the case. We've had the best 3 years together, and whilst it's not going to plan right now, all will unfold in its own time.

"I trust these guys 1000% and my mechanics are incredible, the best in the business. I respect them so please do the same."

Do you think Mercedes' open letter was a good move?
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Series Formula 1
Drivers Lewis Hamilton Shop Now
Teams Mercedes Shop Now