By Ollie Barstow
F1 Editor


Niki Lauda doesn't mince his words at even his most modest, but the insinuation Mercedes has in some way meddled with Lewis Hamilton's title aspirations in order to give Nico Rosberg some kind of leg up over his fierce rival perhaps inevitably generated a more succinct profanity than usual in Russia.

Indeed, it's somewhat fitting that in a land notorious for being clandestine across history, the Russian Grand Prix weekend would see an almost non-story snowball remarkably quickly from off-hand murmurs on social media, to uneasy coincidences, to Mercedes feeling aggrieved enough to pass comment. Apparently conspiracy theories travel fast in F1.

Granted, F1 can sometimes be a reality stranger than fiction when it comes to unusual premises - think 'Spygate' or 'Crashgate' -, but the notion that a team would covertly sabotage its own efforts to favour one driver above the other really is taking team orders to an extreme level.

Hamilton's bad luck so far in 2016 has admittedly been excruciating to watch. If Rosberg if has been frolicking in field of four-leaf clovers, then Hamilton appears to have taken a scythe to his

From his bumps in Australia and Bahrain, to his catalogue of disasters in China, Hamilton's ability to keep smiling through the frustrations have been respectfully noted more than once this year. However, when technical issues reared their ugly head in qualifying and the race in Sochi, his mood had swung from a cheery defiance to a glum shoulder slump.

Indeed, Hamilton said a lot of words during his post-race media debrief insisting he is staying upbeat - whilst saying it in a wholly downbeat manner -, but he'd have expressed himself more concisely had he just turned up and sighed.

There is no doubt Hamilton is still in the 2016 F1 title fight and is very much up for the challenge, but in the shadow of another opportunity taken away from him, it's easy to tell he is feeling hard done by.

As rotten as the run of fortune has been, however, the notion that something more sinister could be at hand behind the scenes rather inevitably received a short shrift from Toto Wolff, who branded those who believe as such to be 'lunatics'.

"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," a defensive 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.

So where has this conspiracy theory emerged from?

Hamilton's Mercedes suffers the same MGU-H problem two races in a row, on both occasions in qualifying. Crucially, Mercedes was convinced it had fixed the China problem - even going to great lengths in its pre-event press release to explain as such -, so it was a great surprise to everyone that it reappeared in Russia. The speed at which the issue was diagnosed - the few minutes from the failure happening at the end of Q2 to before Q3 had even started - shows it is a very particular failure, but it didn't make the job of fixing it any easier.

Then, during the Sochi race itself, just as Hamilton was beginning to make in-roads into Rosberg's advantage having risen from tenth to second, he is warned to essentially back off due to a fall in water pressure, scuppering his charge.

Unfortunate run of events but a conspiracy it doesn't make. It's worth pointing out though that while Hamilton has suffered four disappointing races, Mercedes itself can only be held accountable for two of them and as frustrating as that is for a team that prides itself on excellence, the issues appear to stem from one particular, undiagnosed area.

Admittedly, Hamilton added a little fuel to the fire by pondering why a car that completed 800km of almost flawless running in pre-season testing is having so many niggles now, before saying he will now want to pore over data to explain exactly what happened.

However, the question simply begs... why?

What would Mercedes have to gain from intervening in such an underhand way, particularly just four races into the season? A company that prides itself on reliability wouldn't dent its own reputation through showing intentional frailty - particularly with its highest profile driver - and for a firm that prioritises the constructors' title over the drivers' reckoning, it's unlikely it would freely give away points.

Mercedes might even think that a German world champion or multiple race winner is better for publicity, particularly as the German Grand Prix hangs in the balance if it doesn't attract a large crowd this year, but Hamilton enjoys a far bigger platform for Mercedes on a global scale in terms in marketing anyway.

Furthermore, at this stage in the season it has little to gain. Mercedes may enjoy an 81 point advantage over Ferrari in the constructors' standings, but the margin has been largely generated by Ferrari's numerous issues as well and would be much smaller had it performed to expectations.

Even looking at it from an entirely logistical perspective, Mercedes is unlikely to have enjoyed signing off on the rigmarole of a pricey (trans: environmentally unfriendly) chartered flight from the UK to Russia to transport a particular part, nor watch on as the mechanics worked through the night to get the car fixed.

Granted, there is some 'romance' to be considered in these theories - Lewis Hamilton admits he didn't know why there was a desire to change engineers at the start of the season, but at almost every opportunity has spoken about his 'guys' with nothing but praise and admiration.

Hamilton himself does offer up some sympathy to those seeking a reason - seemingly any reason - to justify his run of form, though he also gives any suggestion his efforts are being tampered a quick thumbs down.

"The people who might be saying that are feeling whatever pain that I'm feeling and that's the thing, they're feeling the hurt and the emotions that we go through because we're connected in that way - that's the beautiful thing.

"I just want to assure everybody that the guys are working as hard as they can do, they're doing a fantastic job. We're a team, we win together and lose together."

In an age of expressing opinion, it is unlikely Mercedes will ever silence the critics or the cynics entirely, but while the next race in Spain could see three-in-a-row for Hamilton to fan the flames, or maybe this time an issue for Rosberg to swing it the other way entirely, as good a headline it makes, the 'logic' pedalled by the theorists here simply isn't logical.

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