Williams team principal and CEO, Jost Capito, feels that the death threats sent to Nicholas Latifi over the off season adversely affected the Canadian.
Sir Lewis Hamilton was comfortably leading Max Verstappen heading into the final few rounds of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year, so he was set for his eighth world championship.
Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, said that his driver needed a “miracle” to take the title, and he got one.
Latifi crashed into the barrier with five laps to go of the race, bringing out a Safety Car, and all sorts of chaos ensued from there.
Then race director, Michael Masi, initially ruled that no lapped runners would be allowed through due to time constraints, but he changed his mind ahead of the final lap.
The Australian used a different, but technically not illegal, interpretation of the regulations by waving only the five lapped runners between the leaders go.
Verstappen, who had put on fresh tyres, passed the seven-time champion on the final lap to claim his maiden crown, and Mercedes were furious.
So were their fans, and some of them decided to send death threats in the direction of both Masi and Latifi.
The Australian has since left the FIA and returned to Australia, while the 27-year-old has had a tough time of it alongside Alex Albon and Nyck de Vries at Williams this year.
Both Masi and Latifi needed to hire security to guard them while they were out in public, and it has certainly acted as an unwelcome distraction for the 2019 Formula 2 runner-up.
Latifi is the only one of the full-time drivers not to score points in 2022, putting his chances of retaining his seat next year under threat.
Capito puts his driver’s lack of performance down to the unfortunate events of the winter.
“We had to keep giving him the confidence, we said that there was nothing wrong. Everything was fine, but it was very difficult up until then because it was the end of the season,” he said on the High Performance Podcast.
“He was not around here every single day and also we didn’t interfere too much as we knew what was happening, we knew what was going on. He switched his social media off but if we would have interfered too much, I think we would have made the situation worse.
“That’s something everybody has to get over on their own. He was fully aware that he had our backing, that we were absolutely convinced he didn’t do anything wrong.”
The German understands that, while undesirable, crashes do happen in racing.
“The crash, of course, it shouldn’t have happened but if you’re racing then crashes can happen,” explained Capito.
“And we never blame a driver for that, it’s possible to crash. Otherwise, you have to stay at home if you don’t want to crash.
“I think that was also a part of why it took him quite a while in the season to find his competitiveness.
“I’m sure it affected his driving after that. It would have affected my driving a lot, I am absolutely convinced of this.
“So, I can understand that and this is why we gave him the confidence and supported him all season and we knew he would come back.”
After de Vries’ performance at the Italian Grand Prix last time out, the Dutchman has been closely linked with Latifi’s seat.