Motor racing-Mercedes boss Wolff backs FIA’s Formula One overhaul

Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1- Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – December 5, 2021 Mercedes’ Team Principal Toto Wolff is seen during the race Pool via REUTERS/Andrej Isakovic

February 18, 2022

By Abhishek Takle

(Reuters) – Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said the governing FIA had taken the “right steps” in its response to the controversial season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which included replacing Michael Masi as Formula One race director.

The newly-elected president of the Paris-based body, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, unveiled a raft of changes to the sport’s refereeing procedures on Thursday.

These included the appointment of the experienced Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas to serve as alternating race directors, the setting up of a virtual race control room and a review of procedures governing how cars running a lap down unlap themselves behind the safety car.

F1 stalwart Herbie Blash is also set to return as a permanent senior advisor to the new race directors while broadcast of radio communication between teams and drivers will also be banned.

“Certainly the role of a race director is not easy,” said Wolff on Friday following the launch of his team’s 2022 car. 

“Now, with having two very experienced guys up there, that is good but the support structure that has been built around them is essential.

“I believe that the last couple of years we have seen a little bit of free style in the interpretation of the regulation.” 

The Abu Dhabi race ended in controversy after Masi altered the safety car restart procedure to set up a last-lap showdown between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.

The Australian moved only the lapped cars between the two rivals out of the way, giving Verstappen’s Red Bull, on fresher tyres, the chance to seize the lead and the world championship from race-leader Hamilton on the last lap.

Other decisions taken during the year had also divided opinion.

Mercedes, who initially and unsuccessfully protested the Abu Dhabi result, lodged an intention to appeal but ultimately decided not to go ahead with it.

On Friday, Wolff denied they had made Masi’s departure a condition for dropping their appeal.

The Austrian added that it was now time to move on.

“We are not going to forget it because that’s simply not possible but we need to look into 2022,” he said.

Wolff, who described Hamilton as “disillusioned” after the Abu Dhabi race, also said he had had no concerns about the Briton walking away.  

“He is positive, he is determined and yet again the adversity that was thrown at him will make him stronger,” Wolff said.  

“As he said, it’s attack mode.”

(Reporting by Abhishek Takle; editing by Toby Davis)

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