Toto Wolff, Bruno Famin, Frederic Vasseur, Circuit de Catalunya, 2024

Zero tolerance for conspiracies in F1 – except when it’s everyone’s favourite


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“Cowards.” “Mad people.” “Lunatics.” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was justifiably scathing in his opinion of those spreading conspiracy theories about his team’s treatment of Lewis Hamilton.

Some of Hamilton’s more extreme supporters have been firing off emails making wild accusations about Mercedes’ treatment of him. One received by RaceFans did not claim to come from a team member, and while some publications stated they received emails from whistleblowers within Mercedes, others believed the references to ‘team’ in fact meant ‘team LH’ – i.e., Hamilton’s supporters.

Regardless, Wolff made it clear the emails did not come from a Mercedes team member and added that the police are looking into the matter, as the implications of some of the claims needed to be taken very seriously.

It should be self-evident that it’s not in Mercedes’ interest to sabotage one of their cars. Even so, Wolff spelled out his and the team’s commitment to Hamilton, notwithstanding his impending departure to Ferrari at the end of the season.

Flavio Briatore, Alpine, Circuit de Catalunya, 2024
Disgraced when he left, Briatore has been welcomed back
“Lewis was part of the team for 12 years,” he said. “We have a friendship. We trust each other. We want to win this. We want to end this on a high. We want to celebrate the relationship.

“If you don’t believe all of that, then you can believe that we want to win the constructors’ world championship. And part of the constructors’ world championship is making both cars win.”

Those words probably fell on deaf ears to those who long ago made up their minds that Hamilton’s team have it in for him and set out to find ‘proof’. But Hamilton’s next (and former) team principal, Ferrari’s Frederic Vasseur, had withering words of his own:

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“How you could imagine that a company with 1,500 people, working night and day, pushing like hell to bring upgrades… each races, we could kill one of our cars or damage one of our cars? This is completely irrational and nobody in the paddock could do something like this.

Nelson Piquet Jnr crashes, Renault, Marina Bay, Singapore, 2008
Feature: Crashgate – The long shadow cast by F1’s notorious 2008 Singapore Grand Prix
“We are fighting for the championship. Each weekend we are trying to score one point more than the other one. How you could imagine that we say ‘okay, that Lewis, we don’t want to score points anymore with him’.”

“For me it’s completely irrational and completely out of the scope of the people who are doing my business,” he concluded. You couldn’t ask for a more lucid deconstruction of the breathless, evidence-free rantings of the conspiracists.

But there is also a double standard at work here. Because one F1 team has deliberately damaged one of its cars in the past. One of their peers has sacrificed one of his driver’s races.

Moreover, one of the people held responsible for it – who has always denied any role in it and never apologised for it – returned to work in F1 this week.

Flavio Briatore has rejoined the very team who became synonymous with Crashgate, arguably F1’s most flagrant act of cheating. The team may have been sold and repurchased by Renault since then, and now bears the name of its sportscar brand Alpine, but the same manufacturer is in charge.

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But while those who imagine fantastical conspiracies involving Hamilton were derided, the man accused of overseeing a genuine conspiracy received a warm welcome from his peers.

Toto Wolff
Briatore deserves a chance to return to F1, says Wolff
“I think we need to give the chance to recover from these situations,” said Wolff. “I have known Flavio as an extremely smart businessman. He has a lot of know-how in Formula 1. Every input that I got over the last 10-plus years that I’ve been in much more contact – and I have a friendly relationship with him – was in a way helpful.”

Alpine team principal Bruno Famin was unbothered Briatore had never admitted nor apologised for Crashgate, despite it causing the departure of Renault’s main sponsors at the time and leaving the threat of a permanent ban hanging over them for two years. Nor does Wolff feel an absence of contrition should be a barrier to full rehabilitation in the F1 paddock.

“There is a lot of experience and expertise that, like Bruno said, 40 years of Formula 1 do. And I think everybody deserves the opportunity to come back.

“For me, for sure, having another clever mind in Alpine, someone that is able to simplify things and apply common sense in any case, where Alpine is today, is a benefit.”

Wolff wasn’t alone in welcoming Briatore back. Vasseur, the principal of the team who lost victory as a consequence of Renault’s tactics (which has led their former driver Felipe Massa to seek recompense over a lost championship he believes he deserved), saw no reason to complain about Briatore’s return.

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“Overall, I think it’s probably, as Bruno said, a step forward for Alpine,” said Vasseur. “And it’s good for F1 at the end if Alpine is coming back into the fight. We know the story and I think he paid the price of this and if now he’s allowed to come back, he can come back.”

It’s hard to follow the logic that deems those who imagine conspiracies should be pilloried while someone found responsible for actually enacting one gets full latitude in exchange for zero remorse.

It would be naive to claim that without Crashgate there would be no conspiracy theories in F1. But that breathtaking act of manipulation gave every flat-earther a ready-baked justification for any conspiracy they can dream up.

No doubt Wolff and the others are sick of the unjust slights from the myopic followers of certain drivers at their teams’ efforts to field two fully competitive cars. But they should take a moment to remember who inspired so much of it.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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28 comments on “Zero tolerance for conspiracies in F1 – except when it’s everyone’s favourite”

  1. Well, Toto himself has played a significant leading role in fueling this (wrong and despicable) behavior by some. He deliberately played the game when he deemed it beneficiary to his agenda in 2021. Imho, he should not be the one to comment on this as long as he doesn’t start with an apology for his own behaviour.

    1. Indeed. Pot calling the kettle(s) black.

  2. I don’t think Crashgate is quite comparable to the Mercedes conspiracy: in Crashgate, the team had something to gain from damaging the other car; Alonso won the race because of that. I don’t see how Mercedes would benefit from actively sabotaging Hamilton.

    However, while I agree that the idea of Mercedes actively sabotaging Hamilton is nuts, it is also naïve to think that all teams treat both their drivers equally. We know that this isn’t true and that several teams have clear number one drivers. This doesn’t mean one of the drivers is sabotaged, but rather that one driver has priority for pit stops, gets upgrades first, has better mechanics, has more say in the development path, etc. At times, teams have to favor one driver: for instance, when both drivers have the same optimal lap to pit, they can’t pit both on the same lap.

    Now, whether Mercedes currently has Russell as their number one driver – I haven’t seen any credible evidence so far. But I wouldn’t blame them if they did. Hamilton isn’t their future, but Russell might be. It only makes sense to, for instance, develop the car to Russell’s preferred way if it contradicts Hamilton’s – especially since they aren’t going to win either of the championships this season.

    1. I think this is the key point of the article. Crashgate was real and is awful. This latest idea about Mercedes isn’t real and is silly.

      To those who want to call out conspiracies, look at the real one.

      1. The only thing wrong with crashgate was the dude who opened his mouth. But he got what he deserved, and he no longer drives in F1.

        1. @pcxmac You’re saying it’s okay to be cynical and cheat people so long as you can get away with it. Don’t you have any standards? What kind of world do you want people to live in?

          1. Don’t you have any standards?

            Oh, I think px does have standards, but it seems like a low bar.

        2. Hey, you’re one to ponder baselss conspiracies…so I was wondering, how does it feel to be called “Cowards.” “Mad people.” “Lunatics.” by Toto Wolff?

    2. José Lopes da Silva
      22nd June 2024, 10:43


    3. Hamilton has complained that Russel gets updates first. He has added fuel to the conspiracy theory.

      1. Palaboran, I think he stated Russell had received the upgrade first rather than complained about it, and even if he did, that is a matter of logistics, not sabotage. Conspiracy theorists are expert is taking any piece of info and claiming it proves their theory. no matter how idiotic their reasoning is.

  3. I find the link made in this article between Hamilton conspiracy theory and Briatore’s rig race very shaky, to say the least.

    There is zero reason for Merc to put Hamilton down ; obviously some fan are just making excuses.

    As for Briatore…. It’s quite clear the man has never been shy to cheat and avoid the rules. And I’m more referring to the fraud he was involved in than the crashgate story. He was punished by F1 and was basically out of sport for 30 years (apart from some driver management activities).

    But he remains a very knowledgeable person, with a huge network and a smart and canny mind that could help Alpine. So after decades of punishment, I’m not shocked to see him back ; a bit of a redemption story…. After all, if even murderer are given a second chances, I think we can accept Briatore, right ?

    All these TP know Briatore for such a long time, what do you expect them to say ? Some PR bullshit condemnation ?

    The real interesting question is : what is Briatore mission? Bring the team back to the top or prepare it for a selling? Second option seems more probable looking at Flavio’s profile…

    1. José Lopes da Silva
      22nd June 2024, 11:52

      The link is indeed shaky, but Keith’s role was exactly dismissing the link. Briatore’s return doesn’t mean Mercedes is sabotaging Hamilton.

      I can’t see no redemption story. A murderer is given a second chance but is record is not erased and you wouldn’t trust him a weapon again. And for a murderer to be given a second chance he is supposed to show contrition.

      Briatore returning is the return of the Big Boss, and it seems we’re living in an era of fascination with big bosses that get away with everything. If he remains a very knowledgeable person, with a huge network and a smart and canny mind, I know of a ton of jobs helping the poor or the old where he could be useful.

      And the TP’s said about him sounded exactly like PR ox leftovers.

  4. I always found it a bit funny how the Singapore 2008, and the McLaren-Ferrari spying of 2007, were all of a sudden such a big deal, when in fact these things have been going on for decades in F1, often by the very people who were now running it.

    In case of McLaren-Ferrari saga, no one from McLaren did anything that could have been considered illegal, only unsporting. None of the McLaren employees broke into Ferrari, physically or digitally, in order to obtain the document. They didn’t purchase them either. They were simply found in possession of them, because Ferrari had a disgruntled employee who wanted to see Ferrari beaten by their competition.

    In case of Singapore 2008, you could consider it a professional foul, because that is exactly what it was.
    Every sport has those, and the sanctions against players are usually in form of the harshest sporting penalty, like a red card and similar.

    The main reason why those two cases were so blown up, was at least 50% because Mosley (and Bernie), really had it in for Dennis and Briatore, because they actually had spine when it came to standoffs between the teams and FIA & FOM.

    1. Biggsy, I agree with you 50%. The McLaren spygate was a bit ridiculous when you consider that teams would collect every photo they could of opposition cars, measure them in precise detail, they had sound analysis to work out what the opposition was doing by listening to the pitch of the engines, and everyone copies everyone else. As you say, McLaren didn’t obtain those details by criminal means in any way, and you could argue it was due to Ferrari’s carelessness, in the same way that the other teams found out about McLaren’s brake pedals when they were careless and sommeone got a photo of the inside of the car.

      Crashgate is different because it is clearly against the rules of the game, even if it wasn’t spelt out in the rule book. Suppose you were watching the hendred meters at the Olympics and one of the sprinters rugby tackles another sprinter so his team mate can win. That’s probably not specifically mentioned in the rule book either, but no-one could imagine it was within the rules of the game. I cannot imagine any racing fan who thinks deliberately causing a crash is an acceptable professional foul. I think the whole idea of a “professional foul” in any sport is just unacceptable, but this is up at the extreme end of unacceptability.

  5. Briatore may be a dubious guy, but he’s hardly the only one. It’s more disappointing than anything else. They really can’t think of something new? Is there nobody in their organisation that can do this? Does Alpine really need a 74-year-old who has been out of the sport for over a decade? What an operation!

    It’s also amusing to see the stark contrast between the reactions to this and the instant rehabilitation of ‘good lad’ Patrick Symonds.

    1. Well put MichaelIN, bringing Briatore Back to enstone really feels like a move of desperation, or perhaps as HAL mentioned above, a cleaning up before (Garage?) sale.

      As for Briatore as a person, after Ecclestone’s exit U had some hope of F1 moving to more uplifting morals and ethics, though I am not all that surprised it never materialised.

  6. notagrumpyfan
    22nd June 2024, 12:05

    Reading the title I expected this article to compare the current situation with the wild stories after AD21.

  7. Silverstone should be interesting now that Mercedes has cleared the air and declared to all, including every member of their company, that they are a team that plays fairly.

    It needed to be said, and this was perhaps the only way for the higher-ups to say this.

    [Its also a warning to Ferrari, eg Don’t be this team. ]

    1. There is however zero value in what teams say to the press.

      1. I know, but the reading public will include their own workforce..

  8. If there was ever a conspiracy at Mercedes for hobbling one driver to favor another one, it would be 2016.

    1. If there was ever a conspiracy at Mercedes for hobbling one driver to favor another one, it would be 2016.

      Therefore, there never has been,
      Speaking as a Hamilton fan, he just had a seriously bad run of luck that year. No conspiracy, just bits of kit failed.
      Oh, and the reason that Rosberg retired immediately after is that he knew that beating Hamilton, for the first time in his whole career, was also going to be the last.

  9. David Croft stoking the Mercedes/Hamilton conspiracy theory on Sky
    I guess it gets viewer engagement

  10. Two responses to this article. First, there’s a difference between claims that Mercedes are sabotaging Hamilton’s car and facts like Russell has received upgrades first. When Hamilton’s move to Ferrari was announced just before the season started, a lot of pundits (including Jenson Button) wondered how the season would play it given their certainty that Hamilton would inevitably be gradually sidelined in the team. Is that a conspiracy theory? No, it’s real world experience of Formula 1 from the inside. All the subtle and unsubtle factors that end with a team favouring one driver come into play (and yes, Hamilton had been the beneficiary of the same for many years at Mercedes, just like Verstappen at Red Bull). My own view is that Hamilton has sporadically shown he has the same pace as ever – ‘naturally’ a bit faster than Russell – but a series of factors has seen his overall performance exceeded by GR. I don’t think he cares that much, understanding the dynamics have radically changed with him leaving, and he’s even been supporting Russell verbally. But the effect is enough for some people to wrongly attribute this difference to sabotage.
    Second, the difference between conspiracy and justifiable scepticism aside, I kind of get the point of the article. Briatore is being welcomed back when the ‘conspiracy theory’ surrounding Singapore 2008 was actually spot on. I remember it well. But really the issues aren’t connected that much. Should Briatore be allowed back? Technically (legally) yes. Does it look good? After Abu Dhabi 2021, my expectations are frankly low anyhow.

  11. Briatore – cheats just cheat, he has no place in F1

    1. Renault have to try something to become competitive again, don’t they? Briatore is the answer.

  12. I think the difference is that a French law court says Flavio served his time and reprimanded F1 for trying to be stricter than the French court was willing to be. Thus paddock people criticising Flavio for the Nelsinho Defence risks getting lawyers against them.

    Flavio was still wrong, but F1’s not in a position to do anything about it – and in a rather shaky situation to even say anything about it.

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