Forgetting Abu Dhabi ‘not possible’ – Mercedes’ verdict on FIA plan - The Race
Formula 1

Forgetting Abu Dhabi ‘not possible’ – Mercedes’ verdict on FIA plan

Feb 18 2022
By Scott Mitchell-Malm

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Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff says the FIA’s changes to its race management team were “essential” to end “freestyle interpretations” of the regulations.

A lengthy review into the controversial 2021 season finale has taken place, triggered by the outcry over how race director Michael Masi’s actions changed the outcome of the world championship and denied Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton an eighth title.

Feb 17 : Masi out - but has the FIA done enough?

On Thursday, new FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has announced sweeping changes including removing Masi as race director.

He will be replaced by Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich, experienced race directors from other categories who will rotate the position between them during the season and be assisted by Charlie Whiting’s former deputy Herbie Blash, who returns in a permanent role as a senior adviser.

A new virtual race control room will be created that will assist the race director in making decisions, while direct radio communications with the race director will not be broadcast and team bosses will not be able to interfere, which the FIA says is to “protect the race director from any pressure and allow him to take decisions peacefully”.

Mercedes dropped a legal challenge into the events of Abu Dhabi on the condition the FIA was taking the matter seriously and would eventually instigate meaningful change.

Asked by The Race for his view on whether the FIA’s action is sufficient, Wolff said: “I believe that the right steps have been taken. And I’m optimistic about the changes that have been implemented.

Mercedes Amg F1 W13 E Performance Launch Toto Wolff

“Certainly, the role of a race director is not easy. And now with having two very experienced guys up there, that is good.

“But the support structure that has been built around them is essential. Not only in the race director’s room but also with a remote control room where the race directors can rely on feedback and input to make the decision-making process easier for them.

“I believe that the last few years, or the last couple of years, we have seen a little bit of freestyle in the interpretation of the regulations.

“So yes, I’m happy what has been implemented by the incoming president.”

The controversy surrounded how Masi acted in a manner not prescribed by the regulations in order to set up a one-lap restart.

He only allowed the lapped cars between long-time race leader Lewis Hamilton and his title rival Max Verstappen to unlap themselves then ignored the rule that states the safety car must come into the pits at the end of the following lap.

That stopped the race ending under the safety car but changed the complexion of the finale completely as it left Hamilton directly vulnerable on old hard tyres to Verstappen, who used fresh softs to pass him on the final lap to win the grand prix and the title.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Race Day Abu Dhabi, Uae

Removing Masi as race director was said to be a condition of Mercedes, but this was never something the team stated publicly.

“Us dropping the appeal, linked to anyone leaving the FIA, is not true,” insisted Wolff. “I don’t know where that comes from.

“I think that the restructuring within how decisions are being made in Formula 1, sporting decisions and also technical decisions, was necessary.

“Last year was a great season. But it created a lot of polarisation with decisions that were not always easy to understand.”

One thing Wolff did stress in support of the FIA is that he did not believe the actions were taken with the intent of denying Hamilton the title.

Accusations that the FIA ‘fixed’ the outcome of the race and title in Abu Dhabi has been rife on social media since last December.

Wolff denied that happened, and hopes the launch of the Mercedes W13 on Friday and the changes committed to by the FIA will allow them to move on – even though he admitted it is “not possible” to just forget what happened.

Mercedes Amg F1 W13 E Performance Launch W13

“Nothing is fixed,” he said. “It was just the circumstances and decisions that were unprecedented.

“And how they came about certainly for us was a shock. Three laps to the end, we got a message that the cars were not allowed to unlap themselves. And three minutes later, four minutes later, suddenly there’s two messages that came out of nowhere.

“Now, obviously, we know what happened in the background unknown to us. And then the championship was gone. Within literally half a minute of decision-making process. And that is unprecedented.

“But also we have to move on from that. I think it’s in the past. And with the measures that were announced yesterday by Mohammed, I think we need to put it aside.

“We are not going to forget it. Because that’s simply not possible.

“But we need to look into 2022 and especially today, launching the car this, should be the moment that we can really embark with encouragement into the season.”

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