Lewis Hamilton has endorsed a message from his official supporters' club pleading with fans not to send “hateful comments” towards Red Bull’s head of strategy Hannah Schmitz in the wake of his fourth-place finish in Sunday’s Dutch Grand Prix.
Hamilton reacted angrily after seeing his best chance of a win this season slip away thanks to two late safety cars, the first one a virtual safety car, deployed when Yuki Tsunoda – who drives for Red Bull’s sister team AlphaTauri – retired from the race.
The involvement of AlphaTauri in an incident which played such a key role in the race inevitably raised eyebrows, with even Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff suggesting the sequence of events was odd.
But after a Twitter user posted a message on social media calling Schmitz “a snake b---- who cheats with Red Bull’s baby team” and received hundreds of retweets from apparent Hamilton fans, the #TeamLH Twitter account, an official community account, released a statement, which the seven-time world champion then shared with his 7.7million followers.
The statement, which was taken down hours after Hamilton had retweeted it, pleaded with fans to be kind, and to recognise that Schmitz had played a crucial role in Verstappen’s win on Sunday thanks to her brilliant strategy calls.
“We 100 per cent understand that everyone’s emotions are high right now,” read the statement. “No one expected the race to unfold that way when we were so close to a win. But it’s important to us that we continue to spread love and empathy towards the hardworking teams in the paddock – whether from our team or others – but especially the women.
“The language and hateful comments directed at Red Bull’s head of strategy Hannah Schmitz is intolerable and should not be condoned. This sport is cut-throat, and you have to be ready for absolutely anything, and that’s what she did today.
“There are lots of positives from Lewis’s race today, and that’s exactly what we are focusing on doing. Thank you for your unwavering support for LH! We win and we lose together.”
Hamilton had reacted furiously in the race itself, first bemoaning the VSC, then accusing his pitwall of having “f------ screwed” his race by leaving him out on the wrong tyres. He later apologised for his rant at his team but insisted he would never apologise for showing “passion”.
The post was taken down on Monday afternoon following a strong social media reaction, with #TeamLH saying: “We understand the statement issued ended up doing more harm than good, and incited comments that are exactly everything that TeamLH stands against – for that, we sincerely apologise.
“We’d like to clarify that we do not condone any form of abusive comments, whether towards Lewis, his team, or fans. This was not a generalisation to TeamLH as a whole, and should not be read as such. Our priority has been, and will always be, protecting TeamLH.”
The controversy on Sunday came as Hamilton had been trying for a one-stop strategy and appeared to be having some success to put him in contention for a first win of the season, when Tsunoda suddenly stopped on track after a pit stop saying a wheel was not on. The Japanese driver was told by his team there was no problem and that he should continue. He then pitted for a lengthy pitstop while his team seemingly rummaged around with his seatbelt, only to stop on track shortly after being released, forcing a virtual safety car.
That triggered a round of pit-stops and changed the entire complexion of the race. “That VSC has stuffed us,” remarked Hamilton at one point.
Asked about Tsunoda’s issues afterwards, Wolff expressed confusion. "Tsunoda stopping out on track and restarting, coming back with seatbelts not on, starting the car up again and breaking down half a lap later…?" he said, without finishing the sentence.
He later said the team might have looked more closely at the sequence of events if they were actually fighting for the championship. “I'm looking at us at the moment in terms of ‘Where do we need to find performance?” Wolff said. “If we were to fight for the championship, that would be something that I would closely look at.
“Now, I think what needs to be investigated, for the safety of drivers and everybody out there, [is the fact] the driver stopped, unbuckled, did a full lap, came in, the problem wasn't solved, they put the seatbelt back on, and he drove out and stopped the car again.
“So I mean, that's probably changed the outcome of the race that we maybe could have won but maybe either way irrelevant. For me, I'm not thinking about that anymore. It's done.”
AlphaTauri released a statement on Monday afternoon to condemn accusations of foul play that they labelled "insulting and categorically incorrect", and the team also criticised those directing abuse at Schmitz.
An AlphaTauri statement read: “It is incredibly disheartening to read some of the language and comments directed at our team and towards Red Bull Racing’s head of strategy, Hannah Schmitz.
“Such hateful behaviour cannot be tolerated, and to entertain accusations of foul play is unacceptable, untrue and completely disrespectful towards both Hannah and us.
“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.”