Sunday’s Formula 1 Dutch Grand Prix ended with a slew of fans crying “conspiracy” after AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda had a mysterious trackside stoppage that ended up playing into Red Bull Racing’s hands. Except, of course, a little extra digging shows that there wasn’t actually a conspiracy at all.
After a late-race pit stop, Yuki Tsunoda felt that one of his wheels hadn’t been properly fastened, so he pulled over to the side of the track quickly, preparing to abandon the car. Data from the team, however, showed that Tsunoda’s wheel was fine, so the team told him to come back to the pits.
It was admittedly a strange situation, only made more confusing by the fact that upon his return to the pits, Tsunoda’s crew were seen in the cockpit adjusting the driver’s belts, not attending to the loose wheel the driver had suspected. Tsunoda’s brief stoppage, though, brought out a virtual safety car that allowed Red Bull driver and race leader Max Verstappen to make a brief stop for tires without losing nearly as much time as he would have under green-flag conditions. Suddenly, things looked fishy.
Once the chaos settled down, it became clear that Tsunoda really did believe that his wheel was loose, and he’d loosened his seatbelts to prepare to evacuate the car. That’s why his crew was inside his cockpit, adjusting his harness so he could return to the track. The suspicious timing of the situation was just a matter of bad luck and coincidence.
But those moments of confusion were enough to spark rumors on social media alleging a massive conspiracy. Some fans speculated that Tsunoda had been instructed to stop, with the sole intention of giving an advantage to Verstappen. As the conspiracy theory went around the internet, Red Bull’s head of strategy, Hannah Schmitz, was subjected to sexist and abusive language from some F1 fans.
The conspiracy, though, was overblown, and you can tell as much by watching this nearly eight-minute onboard clip posted on Reddit. If this truly was orchestrated by Red Bull pulling the puppet strings on AlphaTauri, not only would Tsunoda have to be totally fine sabotaging his own career for Verstappen’s — he’d have to be an award-winning actor. On the onboard video, the panic in Tsunoda’s voice is real. AlphaTauri would also have to be fine with throwing away points in the middle of a heated mid-field battle — points that translate directly to prize money at the end of the year.
It’s not like Verstappen needs a whole lot of help anyway. Mercedes’ strategy for Lewis Hamilton relied on the race going green all the way through. The fact that it didn’t was an unfortunate gamble on Mercedes’ part — but that can happen at any time in racing. That’s just the way things go.
And besides, Verstappen was already leading the Championship by 100 points. A single Hamilton win wasn’t going to dampen the dominance of the best driver piloting the best car in the field.