Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff has welcomed the move from world motor sport’s governing body to make changes at the top of Formula One.
The FIA has removed Michael Masi from his position as race director after the Australian was caught up in huge controversy surrounding his handling of the 2021 season finale in Abu Dhabi, which saw Red Bull’s Max Verstappen win the title ahead of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton.
In a dramatic end to the race, Masi ordered cars positioned between the title rivals to unlap themselves, allowing Verstappen to pass the British driver and claim his maiden Drivers’ Championship.
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World Endurance Championship director Eduardo Freitas and Niel Wittich, who is the former race director of the German Touring Car Masters, will take over the role, sharing it on an alternate basis.
Wolff is pleased by the news, saying, “I think it’s very encouraging to see that action has been taken. There’s a much more robust structure now and support structure for the racing director. The FIA has stated that there will be a virtual race control room - state of the art technology. The new guys are going to be in place for the Barcelona test and I think, the right steps.”
Looking ahead to the new season, Wolff is hoping his team can go on to be constructors’ champions for the ninth time in a row. Last season’s win was marred by Hamilton being beaten in the Driver’s Championship, but the Austrian is hopeful of a Mercedes clean sweep.
“It feels a little bit surreal that as a team we were able to achieve that eight times in a row. Obviously there was this shadow with the driver’s championship, with Lewis’ championship, the Abu Dhabi situation. Let’s look into the future and definitely we want to continue where we started but we have no sense of entitlement”, he said.
There were questions surrounding Hamilton’s future after having his title taken from him, with the British racer not speaking publicly in the months following the Yas Marina controversy.
However, the seven-time world champion has committed to returning to the track as a Mercedes driver, defiantly stating, “I never said I’d stop”, at the launch of his team’s new W13 car.
Wolff cannot wait to continue working with Hamilton, saying, “we were thrown into this project at the same time in 2013. Normally, you would see about the driver, they come and they drive and they go but with Lewis, he’s become an integral part of the team. Ten years is quite an amazing time.”
Hamilton has long been the face of Mercedes, but will have a new team-mate this season, with fellow Brit George Russell lining up alongside him.
Wolff knows the pair will make a great partnership, with Hamilton being the ideal team player.
“One situation that describes it all, it looked like we had lost the drivers championship when Lewis was disqualified for the sprint race in Brazil. Lewis came into the engineering room and said to us, ‘that is now a long shot to win the driver championship, let’s at least win the team championship for us.’ He’s a team player and like I said before, a super important part of us”, he said.
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