Toto Wolff says his Mercedes team “wanted to bring a little bit of respect back to the discussion” following what he described as “below the belt” comments and written statements submitted to the stewards by Red Bull over the clash between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen at the British Grand Prix.
In reference to the statement Mercedes issued following the stewards’ decision to reject Red Bull’s petition to review the 10-second penalty that Hamilton was hit with for being predominantly to blame for the collision, Wolff said that it was motivated by a feeling that Red Bull had gone too far.
The statement included criticism of Red Bull senior management for trying to “tarnish” Hamilton’s “good name and sporting integrity”. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner called the statement “a little bit antagonistic”.
In addition to the public comments from Red Bull figures about Hamilton’s driving that have been extensively reported over the past two weeks, the stewards referred obliquely to “certain allegations” made by Red Bull that are understood to relate to suggestions Wolff attempted to influence the stewards during the decision-making process.
“We wanted to bring a little bit of respect back to the discussion,” said Wolff during a press conference at the Hungaroring.
“We understand that emotions can run high and it is always a matter of perspective and perception, but we felt that line was overstepped.”
He added: “The remarks that were made during and after the Silverstone Grand Prix were just elaborated on further in the document [submitted by Red Bull to the stewards] looking at the incident but giving it a wider taste and that was just a step too far.”
As the controversy has sparked significant argument on social media, Wolff stressed the need to de-escalate given the polarising effect this has had.
While welcoming the value of such disputes to the appeal of the sport, he feels that Red Bull went too far in its claims.
He also implied this was connected to the racist abuse Hamilton received on social media platforms following the clash.
“Formula 1 needs content and controversy, as long as it is around the sport it can be quite entertaining,” said Wolff, when asked about the impact the very public dispute over the incident had on the reaction in the wider word.
“But there are certain boundaries that we need to respect and the sport should unite and not create more polarisation and especially in a sport that cannot be proud at that stage of its diversity and equality.
“We need to just get the words right and therefore let’s aim to de-escalate rather than to fuel.”
He was subsequently asked to elaborate on his position, but declined for fear of further fuelling the polarisation.
“No, I can’t because I don’t want to ignite even more the fire and the controversy,” said Wolff.
“I think what we want to do as a sports team is to de-escalate and not create more polarisation in the social media.”
Much of the case made by Mercedes about the claimed legitimacy of Hamilton’s overtaking attempt was based on a diagram that Wolff referenced in his communications with FIA race director Michael Masi, which were broadcast during the race suspension.
This guidance was issued to the team in 2015 as the team sought to establish clear rules of engagement between drivers Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
Wolff confirmed the nature of the diagram he referred to, and why the team believes it remains active as guidance to the stewards.
“It is a document that says guidance to the stewards’ decisions or something along those lines,” said Wolff.
“It was a document that we didn’t do, it was a document from the FIA. It was a while ago but we never had this situation again that caused controversy.
“This is why that has always been part of our racing intent, how we would see situations panning out between our drivers and the rest of the field. So this is what I was providing.”
Wolff was also asked for his reaction to Red Bull’s unsuccessful attempt to get a review of the incident, which was rejected by stewards on the basis that no new evidence was provided.
The FIA’s international sporting code demands that new evidence must be “discovered” – as opposed to created – meaning that the Red Bull analysis of the clash and data gathered by reserve driver Alex Albon during a ‘re-enactment’ in a test in a 2019 car at Silverstone did not meet the criteria.
“I can’t really judge because we were surprised that they would ask for the right to review because only if you have new information and then you can ask for the right to review and we didn’t understand what that could be,” said Wolff when asked if he believed Red Bull expected to succeed or if it was part of world championship mind games.
“Mind games don’t work with professionals on either side. Mind games don’t work with professionals on either side.
“All the teams and drivers that compete in Formula 1 are the best in the world and they will always try to perform as good as they can, they are certainly not prone to any mind games.”