Russian commentator Alexey Popov has theorised that Mohammed ben Sulayem is sending a message to Mercedes by suggesting that Michael Masi may make a return.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and seven-time champion Sir Lewis Hamilton were left “disillusioned” with Formula 1 after the controversial end to the 2021 championship, which saw a bizarre Safety Car restart from now former race director Michael Masi open the door to a last gasp Max Verstappen move for the win on the final lap.
After weeks of pressure it was finally announced that Masi would be replaced by the alternating Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich, with the former presiding over an F1 for the first time at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.
However, ben Sulayem recently said that he is “open” to the Australian coming back in some capacity, affirming that he “didn’t get rid of him” and that the “operation” at race control was flawed last season.
This is said to have caused some surprise at Mercedes, who are also fighting the FIA over the enforcement of the jewellery regulation.
A source close to the governing body was quoted by Sportsmail as saying that the FIA want to remind Wolff that he does not “run” the sport, which has traditionally been a joint effort from the teams, FOM and the FIA.
Popov indicates that ben Sulayem is eager to show the Austrian that he is not in charge of the pinnacle of motorsport.
“Ben Sulayem said that two race directors is not enough – that a third is needed and he needs such an experienced specialist as Michael Masi,” he said, quoted by grandprix.com.
“It is said that in the Wolff and Hamilton camp, this caused a shock.
“I see it as Sulayem saying ‘Stop, guys. Stop showing me who’s in charge here, otherwise I’ll show you’. How true this is, I can’t say.
“But in the context of this whole story, it does look plausible.”
Meanwhile, Mercedes are bringing upgrades to this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix that they hope can get them closer to Red Bull and Ferrari, and Hamilton would surely like to out-perform George Russell in the race having finished behind him in all of the last four.
Amid speculation that there has been a “changing of the guard,” in the words of Jacques Villeneuve, former vice president of Mercedes motorsport Norbert Haug predicts that the 37-year-old will be back on top this weekend.
“Russell is a very good driver but I would never underestimate Lewis,” he told Sky Germany.
“Anyone who thinks he’s throwing in the towel is wrong. A world champion is of course criticised if he doesn’t do his usual job, and he’s currently behind his teammate.
“But I wouldn’t be surprised if that is no longer the case in Barcelona.”
Hamilton sits sixth in the Drivers’ Standings at present, two positions and 23 points adrift of Russell after five rounds.