Toto Wolff says he is encouraged by the new F1 structure announced by the FIA, and describes Lewis Hamilton as an ‘integral’ part of the Mercedes team.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has insisted that Michael Masi’s departure as race director was not a factor in Lewis Hamilton staying in F1.
Hamilton confirmed at Mercedes’ car launch on Friday that he would be racing in 2022, saying: “I never, ever said I was going to stop”.
The FIA has replaced Masi as F1 race director following a review into last year’s season-ending Abu Dhabi GP, where the Italian’s handling of the Safety Car decisions in the race were questioned.
Lewis Hamilton says it was a ‘difficult time’ and that he needed to step back after the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
Hamilton was denied a history-making eighth world title, as Max Verstappen passed him on the final lap to claim a controversial race win and title, with Wolff previously describing the Brit’s ‘disillusionment’ about the way the 2021 season finished.
But on Friday Wolff said he was always confident that the 37-year-old would return.
When asked whether Masi’s removal was a condition for Hamilton staying in the sport, Wolff told BBC 5Live: “No, absolutely not. I think it was for Lewis himself to decide how can I digest the events from Abu Dhabi and the same for the team, and I think we moved on.
FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem announces that Michael Masi has been removed as F1 race director amongst a string of other changes .
“It’s in the past. It’s not something that we will, in a way, recover, but it wasn’t a condition.”
Speaking to the media after Mercedes launched their new silver W13 car, Wolff added on Hamilton: “I was never concerned that he was leaving.
“Within the team we knew he needed to take the time to reflect on things and particularly how he would come back in the best possible frame of mind. On our side there was no worries about him not coming back.
“I think that adversity has always made him stronger, more resilient and determined. This is the attitude I feel in him right now and the mindset I see in the team.”
Wolff insists Abu Dhabi GP wasn’t ‘fixed’
Sky Sports Formula One reporter Craig Slater explains the departure of Michael Masi as race director and what it means heading into the new season.
Masi ordered only the lapped cars between Hamilton and second-placed Verstappen through during the dramatic Safety Car in the 2021 decider, providing the Dutchman, on fresh tyres, a shot at passing Hamilton – who was on old rubber.
While Masi’s actions were justified by the FIA stewards following a Mercedes team appeal, F1’s governing body lodged a full review into the process and admitted the sport’s image was being tarnished.
“Nothing is fixed,” insisted Wolff. “I think it was just circumstances and decisions that were unprecedented and how they came about certainly for us was a shock.
Mercedes unveil the new F1 W13 for the 2022 season, returning to their traditional silver livery.
“Three laps to the end we got a message that the cars that were not allowed to unlap themselves, and four minutes later suddenly there was two messages that came out of nowhere. 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 we need to put it aside and we are not going to forget it because that’s simply impossible, but we need to look into 2022.”
With the FIA now to rotate two race directors going forward, with assistance with a VAR-esque control room, Wolff continued: “Certainly the role of race director is not easy and now with having two very experienced guys up there, that is good.
“The support structure 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 director’s can rely on feedback and input to make the decision-making process easier for them.
“I believe the last couple of years we have seen a little bit of freestyle in the interpretation of the regulations, so yes I am happy by what has been implemented by the incoming president.”
Formula 1 expert Karun Chandhok says former race director Michael Masi made a mistake in Abu Dhabi but believes the system did not help with the situation either.
‘Time to move forward’
Mercedes revealed their new W13 car for the 2022 season on Friday and Hamilton joined compatriot George Russell for the launch at Silverstone, with Wolff now hoping to see the sport move on from Abu Dhabi and focus on the year ahead.
“The reason why I’m in the sport and our team is the honesty of the stopwatch,” Wolff said. “You know whether you’re good enough or not and, on that day, Lewis was the best driver and the team performed.
“If that’s taken away, you kind of question the integrity, but as a matter of fact I think we need to move on.
“The sport had a fantastic season last season with a great battle at the front and the audiences are great. Polarisation is sometimes good for the sport but now it’s about stopping discussion about Abu Dhabi and moving forward.”