Toto Wolff sees silver lining of Lewis Hamilton being ‘robbed’

The Italian Grand Prix finished under a yellow flag on Sunday.

Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, said he was “satisfied” to see the rules being applied correctly at the end of the Italian Grand Prix.

Last year at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Sir Lewis Hamilton went onto the final few laps leading Max Verstappen by a comfortable margin as the title showdown drew nearer to its conclusion.

Nicholas Latifi’s crash brought out the Safety Car though, and Michael Masi initially ruled that none of the lapped runners would be allowed through due to time constraints.

He did not throw out a red flag, as the crash was not severe enough, and it had taken longer than anticipated to clear the stricken Williams.

READ: Toto Wolff and Christian Horner disagree as Abu Dhabi GP controversy re-emerges

In a bid to make for a more interesting showdown, Masi applied a different interpretation of Safety Car protocol by allowing only the five lapped runners between the title protagonists through.

This was not strictly against the regulations, which stated that “any” of the lapped cars can be let through at the race director’s discretion.

Nonetheless, Mercedes and Hamilton felt that the race had been “manipulated” by Masi, and Verstappen passed the seven-time champion on the final lap of the race to win his maiden title.

Last weekend in Monza, Daniel Ricciardo stopped by the side of the racetrack with seven laps to go, bringing out a Safety Car.

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In the end, race control ran out of time to restart, partly due to the awkward positioning of the McLaren, and partly because the Safety Car picked up third-placed George Russell, instead of leader Verstappen.

The Dutchman therefore won the race under yellow flag conditions, leaving the fans disappointed.

Niels Wittich was the race director last weekend following the dismissal of Masi at the start of the year, and the German is alternating in that role with Eduardo Freitas.

Wolff believes that the structural changes, and the different handling of a late Safety Car, is indicative that the governing body has learned its lesson.

“I’m really satisfied to see that there is a race director and colleagues that apply the regulations against the pressure of the media and the fans to just be in breach of the regulations,” he told Sky Sports.

“So at least Abu Dhabi in that sense gave the FIA more robust confidence to apply the regulations.”

Hamilton indicated after his fifth-placed finished in Italy that the rules were changed last year, saying that “only one time in the history of the sport where they haven’t done the rules like that today and that’s the one where it changed the result”.

The recovery vehicle that was collecting Ricciardo’s car was moving while there were cars moving past it, giving terrible flashbacks of Jules Bianchi’s fatal accident in Japan in 2014.

That aside, the stewards could not deem the racetrack safe enough for racing, so the grand prix ended with a whimper.

“There’s rules and they’re written down from my perspective, whether I’m Abu Dhabi traumatised or not, these rules have been followed to the dot,” explained Wolff.

“There was a car on track, there were marshals, a crane out there, that’s why they didn’t let anybody overtake and then there wasn’t enough time to restart the race once all cars caught up.

“If one is not happy with the regulations and you want to have a big bang show and two laps of racing and mayhem, I’m absolutely up for it, but then we need to change the regulations.

“So, I don’t think we need to complain about anything that happened because this is the rules.”

“I don’t want to create a headline saying, ‘Toto wants to change the regulations because the racing is ****’.

“I think we should all sit down and say ‘is there something we do better?’, but what happened is in the regulations book and that’s why it was applied.”

The 50-year-old did have a suggestion as to how the race director can ensure an entertaining finish, in a fair way, during a late Safety Car period.

“We should think, do we want to have a race finish under green, and then reverse engineer it from there,” added Wolff.

READ: Toto Wolff smirks as he fires jibe at Michael Masi for ‘robbing’ Lewis Hamilton

“So you can say five or 10 laps from the end we have a Safety Car, let’s red flag it – and make sure we are racing at the end.

“If that’s in the regulations, then good.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner disagreed on the restart in Monza, indicating that, had the Safety Car not picked up Russell, there would have been “enough time” to restart the race and give the fans some entertainment.