Although immediately dismissing it, Toto Wolff admits even he contemplated a conspiracy theory amid Mercedes' mysteriously-bad Singapore grand prix. Wild rumours that Pirelli deliberately supplied the wrong tyre compounds to the reigning world champions as payback for the Monza pressure saga did the rounds in the paddock last weekend. "For a moment I thought 'Have Pirelli given us a different tyre to the others?' I'm not saying that it happened, just that I thought it," said Wolff.
It would explain Mercedes' sudden loss of pace. "I don't remember any time in my formula one career when something like this happened," said world champion Lewis Hamilton. "We didn't change anything in the car and suddenly we are 1.5 seconds behind. This is a new experience for us, but I have no reason to think it will continue. We will win more races," he insisted.
Teammate Nico Rosberg is also still baffled, particularly after Mercedes dominated so strongly at Monza just two weeks earlier. "In 15 days we lost 1.5 seconds to Ferrari and 2.5 to Red Bull. And no one in the team knows why," said the German.
Asked to contemplate the Mercedes mystery, Williams' chief engineer Rob Smedley surmised: "It must be the tyres. Whenever you're talking about something more than half a second, it must be something to do with the tyres."
Indeed, many are expecting harder tyres and a more normal racing circuit, like Suzuka this weekend, to host Mercedes' spectacular comeback. It may also be that the softer tyres and the nature of the Singapore layout suited Ferrari particularly. Ferrari's Maurizio Arrivabene admitted: "Singapore was ideal for us. And Japan is not. It is similar to Silverstone, another track where we have struggled in recent years."
Former driver Marc Surer, now a German television pundit, told Bild newspaper: "Ferrari needs hot weather or very soft tyres. Unfortunately I can think of no more races this year where we will see both at the same time again. For me," he added, "it is clear that Mercedes will solve its problems this week and return to its former strength. Japan is an absolute engine and downforce track and Mercedes will be strong there."
Potential rain in Japan, however, may mix the pot up yet again. And Wolff left Singapore admitting he had heard there is a typhoon lingering off the coast near Suzuka. "After the storms of the past few weeks," agreed Surer, "there is talk of a typhoon in the coastal region of Suzuka for the coming weekend." (GMM)