UNLUCKY IN 2016: Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes has been plagued by reliability issues in 2016. Image: AFP / Yuri Kadobnov
Sochi - Mercedes on Sunday rubbished suggestions Lewis Hamilton's horror run of bad luck so far in 2016 may be a conspiracy.
As Nico Rosberg turned his six-race winning streak into an almost unprecedented seven at Sochi, some were daring to wonder if reigning champion Hamilton's continuing reliability problems have been more than just bad luck.
Team chairman Niki Lauda told British television Sky: "This (suggestion) is b------t," after Hamilton had to start the race tenth following an engine problem identical to the one at the Chinese GP.
Chassis issue could be at fault
Team boss Toto Wolff said heads are being scratched.
Wolff told Auto Motor und Sport: "We have eight engines in circulation, thousands of test kilometres have been driven, but this defect has occurred only twice and always in the same car."
It is believed Mercedes is not ruling out a chassis problem that is causing the glitch, but the conspiracy theorists suggest that Hamilton's in-race water leak just as he was catching Rosberg is a further sign of a deliberate plot.
Wolff calls those sorts of people "lunatics".
The team boss said: "The last thing we would do is sabotage Hamilton, he's a great friend to us and we are letting him down."
Indeed, Mercedes demonstrated its valiant efforts to minimise the damage to Hamilton's weekend in Russia after qualifying.
A crucial part - preventing a grid penalty - was flown to Russia overnight aboard a specially chartered jet, reportedly at a cost of some $43 000. The team then enlisted the help of Bernie Ecclestone to ensure it cleared customs and arrived at the track at 2am.
Read: Hamilton avoids penalty thanks to private jet
Further fuel for the conspiracy theorists, however, is that Hamilton's 2016 car is being serviced by mechanics who formerly worked on Rosberg's side of the garage.
A downbeat Hamilton recalled on Sunday: "All of a sudden we swapped for no apparent reason. But that's not the reason we're having these issues. Don't jump the gun.
"It (favouritism) has not happened in the last three years and I have no reason to think it's happening now."
The triple world champion trails Rosberg by 43 points in the championship.
Lauda also hit back at the conspiracy theories.
Lauda said: "I hate this talk because we have eleven hundred people all trying their best for both cars. These are simple, human mistakes."
2016 Formula 1 world championship standings:
1. Nico Rosberg (GER) 100 pts
2. Lewis Hamilton (GBR) 57
3. Kimi Rikknen (FIN) 43
4. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) 36
5. Sebastian Vettel (GER) 33
6. Felipe Massa (BRA) 32
7. Romain Grosjean (FRA) 22
8. Daniil Kvyat (RUS) 21
9. Valtteri Bottas (FIN) 19
10. Max Verstappen (NED) 13
11. Fernando Alonso (ESP) 8
12. Kevin Magnussen (DEN) 6
13. Nico Hulkenberg (GER) 6
14. Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) 4
15. Sergio Prez (MEX) 2
16. Jenson Button (GBR) 1
17. Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL) 1
1. Mercedes 157 pts
2. Ferrari 76
3. Red Bull 57
4. Williams 51
5. Haas 22
6. Toro Rosso 17
7. McLaren 10
8. Force India 8
9. Renault 6