The controversial Abu Dhabi 2021 Formula 1 finale was hotly debated over the winter. Not least by thousands of fans on social media. One of the common theories: Mercedes demanded (and got) race director Michael Masi’s head – and that’s why Lewis Hamilton took such a long hiatus. To increase the pressure on the FIA, because F1 and the FIA must fear that the sport’s superstar will quit otherwise. A story propagated by Toto Wolff.
In the online press conference after the presentation of the new Mercedes F1 W13 for the 2022 Formula 1 season, Toto Wolff had his first opportunity to comment on such conspiracy theories. He of course denied them as stories conjured by the media, whereas it is clear to all that Wolff must be the centre of this story.
That Masi is a “pawn”, explains the Mercedes team boss, is not a majority opinion in his perception. And he clarifies: “Personnel decisions are the exclusive responsibility of the FIA. Each company has to decide autonomously, and no one is going to be talked into it. Least of all Mohammed bin Sulayem.”
The Austrian is alluding to the measures announced by the FIA on Thursday. In addition to the dismissal of Masi as race director and the nomination of two new race directors, these include the introduction of an additional race control room (VAR) off the track and the evaluation of the restart procedure after safety car phases.
In this context, Wolff feels that the FIA has set “the right direction” and made “decisions in the spirit of the sport and in the spirit of a robust decision-making process. Abu Dhabi was just the culmination of unconventional decisions, of course with a dramatic effect that certainly didn’t do the sport any good.”
But really is this pure pantomime by Wolff.
The furore over a possible Hamilton retirement was never staged as leverage on the FIA at Mercedes, he said. It was generally “not an issue” that the 37-year-old could quit, Wolff underlines: “That was rather interpreted by the media, after his total social media blackout.”
“It was always clear to us – also in the talks between Lewis and me – that this was not going to happen. However, he has needed the time to digest, cope and come to terms with the events of Abu Dhabi to some extent. And that was not an easy process. Not for him and not for all of us.”
And yet Wolff set in motion the rhetoric of Lewis Hamilton quitting the sport after the Abu Dhabi incident.
“I really hope we see him again,” Mercedes chief Wolff told Kronen Zeitung last month. “It would be a disgrace for the whole of F1 if the best driver decided to retire because of outrageous decisions.” claimed the Mercedes boss.
At the launch on Friday Wolff now says that 2021 had been “a great season” and said he was “optimistic” that Formula One was now in a much healthier state than before in terms of sporting sovereignty by the FIA.
“With what Mohammed announced yesterday, we have to put that behind us now,” Wolff said. “We will not forget what happened. We can’t. But we have to look to 2022. And today in particular is a day, with the presentation of our car, when we lift our eyes with encouragement and look to the new season.”
Indeed Hamilton had been saying that there needs to be “accountability” which would be something Michael Massi is now familiar with having been in effect prosecuted by his own employers and has since ‘moved on’ within the FIA.
As for Lewis, in his mind the FIA has not done enough to satisfy him and Mercedes merely describing the steps taken as only “first steps”.
No doubt there will be more demands of the sport by Mercedes and Hamilton in the weeks and months to come.