Wolff responds to allegations Mercedes forced FIA to axe Masi to appease Hamilton

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says he and his team played no part in the FIA's decision to remove Michael Masi as race director.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has vehemently denied suggestions that his team played any role in the removal of Michael Masi as race director, but concedes that he does not feel any sympathy for the Australian.

Mercedes were livid at Masi when he contravened an earlier decision by allowing a limited number of lapped runners to pass a late Safety Car at the season-ending 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, leading to a final lap overtake from Max Verstappen on Sir Lewis Hamilton to snatch his maiden F1 world title.

Wolff told Masi that his call was “so not right,” and the Silver Arrows reportedly had to deny claims that they dropped their appeal into the championship classification in exchange for the 44-year-old being relieved of his duties.

New FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem confirmed last week that Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich would be alternatively replacing Masi, and will receive support from former deputy race director Herbie Blash and a VAR-style virtual control room.

Some members of the F1 community have implied that Mercedes may have played a role in this decision.

Dutch Grand Prix sporting director, Jan Lammers, refused to speculate as to whether or not Mercedes had a role to play, but agrees that having multiple figures in race control will allow for a more pragmatic environment in which more consistent decisions can be reached.

“[It] looks a bit like a sacrifice,” he said of Masi’s departure.

“The Hamilton fan will say ‘see!’, but I think the one who made the decisions also had the authority to make those decisions, however controversial they were.

“It’s just much, much better now that five or six people are involved so that the rules are always followed.”

Article continues below

Wolff has insisted that he and his team had nothing to do with FIA’s decision to sack Masi.

“The connection between the withdrawal of our complaint and anyone’s departure from the FIA is not true,” he stated.

“I don’t know where these allegations come from.”

He then bluntly replied “no” when asked by RTL if he feels for Masi following the decision to axe him as race director.

Hamilton said “we’ll see about next year” in the immediate aftermath of the race at the Yas Marina Circuit before taking a lengthy absence from social media to gather his thoughts, leading many to suggest that he may be headed out of the pinnacle of motorsport.

While he admits he had a hard time over the winter, he affirms that he never wanted to quit the sport he loves as he goes in search of a record eighth world championship.

“I never, ever said that I was going to stop.  I love doing what I do,” he said in a media session after the launch of the W13 last week.

“It was obviously a difficult time for me, and it was a time where I really needed to take a step back and focus on being present. 

“I eventually got to a point where I decided I was going to be attacking coming into another season, and working with Toto and George [Russell].”

Speaking on the comprehensive changes to race control, the 37-year-old is pleased at the steps taken by the sport’s governing body, but underlines the importance of avoiding a repeat of last year’s controversy.

“We have to use this moment to make sure that this never happens to anybody else in the sport ever again,” he warned.

“Everything that’s been said by the FIA, I welcome that but we have to make sure that we keep a close eye and make sure that we actually are seeing those changes.”

The 103-time race winner revealed his belief that the initial changes made by ben Sulayem are the “first step” towards repairing the reputation of the FIA, and concedes that it will be not be an entirely short process.

“But that doesn’t necessarily change everything just yet. We have to see actual action.  And I think it will take a bit of time,” he added.

Meanwhile, former Formula 1 driver Ralf Schumacher said he is sorry to see the Australian go, agreeing with Marc Surer, who told Formula1News.co.uk that the decision was an “overreaction.”

“Mercedes lost a lot that day. I personally think the decision is a shame because Masi was a good race director,” he told Sky Germany.

Ultimately, he suggests that the FIA needed to find a way of retaining their integrity, and that removing the 44-year-old was the most viable way of doing this.

“But I can well imagine that there was a lot of pressure on the FIA to set an example. Maybe they could have changed the structure with Masi, but apparently the trenches were just too deep,” he said.

It is expected that Masi will still serve within the FIA in some capacity, and this may be revealed when they conclude their investigation on 18 March – the opening day of the first race weekend of the season in Bahrain.