The Formula One world has become somewhat divided over suggestions Red Bull's sister team Alpha Tauri played a role in helping Max Verstappen secure victory at the Dutch Grand Prix.
Verstappen had been able to take advantage of a conveniently timed safety car period for a crucial pitstop which helped proped him past Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton for the win.
It was a bitterly disappointing blow for Hamilton, who erupted on team radio believing their strategy had backfired badly, when pure bad luck was closer to the reality given Verstappen's blinding pace.
However in hours afterwards, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff suggested the team would more closely scrutinise the problems afflicting Yuki Tsunoda's Alpha Tauri if they were in contention for the championship.
Tsunoda triggered the safety car after a bizarre sequence in which he stopped on track believing one of his tyres was loose after his pitstop, even going so far as loosening his seatbelts believing he was about to retire from the race.
Instead, the team instructed him to keep going and pit again, where they replaced his tyres and had to take extra time refastening his belts.
After Tsunoda left the pits he again complained of issues, this time with the differential, and Alpha Tauri instructed him to stop the car immediately.
This forced the virtual safety car period and both Hamilton and Verstappen pitted, however the faster pistop under the safety car allowed the Dutch substantially more flexibility with his strategy.
This paid off a few laps later, with another safety car called when Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas broke down, allowing Verstappen another quick pitstop withou losing any meaningful ground on Hamilton.
“If we were fighting a championship, this would be something I would closely look at,” Wolff said after the checueqred flag.
“What needs to be investigated for the safety of drivers, and everybody out there, is that the driver stopped, unbuckled, did a full lap, came in; the problem wasn’t solved, they put the seatbelts back on and he drove out and stopped the car again.
“That probably changed the outcome of a race we maybe could have won. The simulation said Max would have come out eight seconds behind us (after his second stop without the VSC) and we would have had a fair shot, and the race planner said the win was on.
“Max would have caught Lewis about eight laps from the end. It would have been very close.”
F1 conspiracy theory written off in wake of Dutch GP
Alpha Tauri and Tsunoda were penalised for allowing the drover to complete nearly a full lap of the circuit without his seatbelts properly fixed, however the idea that there had been some kind of co-operation between them and Red Bull to benefit Verstappen was rubbished by F1 pundits.
Many pointed out that the risk-reward for Red Bull in trying to engineer a home race victory made no sense, given he already most likely has the drivers championship wrapped up - therefore it would make no risk whatsoever to be caught cheating and disqualified from the standings.
Suggestions the race had been unduly influenced by Red Bull's sister team Alpha Tauri were swiftly dismissed on social media.
And the Alpha Tauri conspiracy theorists can get in the skip. Ludicrous straw clutching.
— Will Buxton (@wbuxtonofficial) September 4, 2022
Alpha Tauri’s 5 points off Haas and have scored once in the past 7 races. Why would they sacrifice the driver who looked most likely to score? If he was trying to disrupt the race why did he stop directly by a marshal post and exit road? Sometimes folks need to engage their brain
— Will Buxton (@wbuxtonofficial) September 5, 2022
The Tsunoda conspiracy, upon review, is probably among the more convincing in recent #F1 times, but the evidence still falls well short of where you'd discard Hanlon's razor - "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity".https://t.co/CioB9rIWOW
— Valentin Khorounzhiy (@vkhorounzhiy) September 5, 2022
Incredibly, Alpha Tauri had to release a statement the next day after copping a barrage of abuse on social media, as did Red Bull's head of strategy Hannah Schmitz.
In their statement, the team explained what had happened when Tsunoda broke down and called on F1 fans to have a little more perspective when considering how a race unfolds.
Chiefly though, Alpha Tauri said they would not tolerate being harrassed by F1 fans.
“Such hateful behaviour cannot be tolerated, and to entertain accusations of foul play is unacceptable, untrue and completely disrespectful towards both Hannah and us," their statement read.
“We have always competed independently, fairly and with the highest levels of respect and sportsmanship.
“Yuki had a failure that the team didn’t immediately detect which caused him to stop on track. To suggest anything different is insulting and categorically incorrect.”
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