Mercedes F1 team boss Toto Wolff felt compelled to address the suggestion that the Three Pointed Star was deliberately hampering Lewis Hamilton's bid for a title hat-trick after a tough start to the season for the Briton.

While team-mate Nico Rosberg romped to three wins in as many races to start the season, Hamilton suffered from two poor starts that saw him having to fight back from the depths of the top ten rather than capitalising on pole position, and then suffered an engine problem in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix that meant he started from the very back of the grid.

When another engine gremlin bit in Q2 at the Russian Grand Prix, condemning Hamilton to tenth on the grid, and a water pressure issue denied him the chance to hunt down Rosberg in the race, the conspiracy theories gained new momentum, but Wolff was quick to shoot down the 'bedroom warriors' he felt were doing the team - and Hamilton's crew in particular - a disservice.

"Of course we don't do it deliberately, [but] the team has been abused in some of the social media and conspiracy theories are out there," Wolff noted, "My response to this is I don't want to even ignore these lunatics who think that we would harm a driver - our driver - who has been a double world champion for us. He hasn't let us down and we wouldn't let him down. This is a mechanical sport and we wouldn't let these things happen.

"I think it's very difficult to take seriously the people out there who are lying in their bed with their laptop on their chest, sending out those abusive messages. We are not taking that seriously. You wonder what goes through people's minds. Lewis has won two championships with that team in the past and we are always trying to give him the best possible go in any race. You just question yourself what's going on in some people's heads?

Mentioning that Rosberg, despite cruising to a comfortable 25secs victory and setting fastest lap of the race two laps from home, had suffered a scare with the MGU-K drive during the Russian event, Wolff accepted that Mercedes, like its rivals, was 'pushing the limits on the chassis and on the engine side a lot in order to have a competitive car'. However, he remained more concerned that the engineers on Hamilton's side of the garage were being unfairly targeted for abuse.

"The reason why I'm being vocal about it is that I want to protect those guys," he stressed, "They are being hit by comments that are just inexcusable and unfair, abusive without any reason. If some of the guys read some of those comments, they might take it personally and this is why I want to be very clear.

"We appreciate every rational and true comment and we take criticism very seriously. We have a core group of fans who are behind us and, sometimes, if we screw up, we have to admit that isn't the best we could have done and, in the last couple of races, we have done some mistakes and letting Lewis down with the engine is certainly one of them. We know that and we feel that much more than anyone else, but I think some of the guys take it pretty hard."