Wolff reveals if Hamilton staying in F1 was dependent on Masi being fired

Toto Wolff supports the changes made to race control by the FIA following Sir Lewis Hamilton's controversial championship defeat last season.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff insists that Sir Lewis Hamilton’s decision to continue racing in Formula 1 in 2022 was not contingent on Michael Masi’s removal as race director, but welcomes the changes made to race management.

Hamilton was cruelly denied his record eighth world championship last year when Masi made the controversial decision to allow a limited number of lapped runners to pass the Safety Car ahead of the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

This contravened an earlier call to prevent any lapped cars from getting their lap back, and it allowed Max Verstappen the opportunity to clinch his maiden title on the last lap, which he duly took.

Mercedes would later rescind an appeal into the championship classification, but rumours quickly formed that they had brokered a deal with the FIA to remove the 44-year-old from his position as race director.

These appeared to be quashed when it emerged that new president Mohammed ben Sulayem had moved Peter Bayer across to serve as executive director of single-seaters, but following a meeting with team principals at the start of the week, the Emirati confirmed that Masi will no longer be in his role for the 2022 season.

He will be replaced by Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich – who will alternatively take up the position – and they are to be supported by Herbie Blash and a virtual control room.

Wolff sees these as encouraging steps as the FIA attempts to retain its integrity and make for a clearer, more consistent decision-making process.

“Obviously there was this shadow with the Drivers’ Championship, with Lewis’s Championship and the Abu Dhabi situation but let’s look into the future,” he told reporters at the launch of the Mercedes W13.

“I think it is very encouraging to see that action has been taken. There’s a much more robust structure now and a support structure now for the race director.

Article continues below

“The FIA has stated that there will be a virtual race control room, state of the art technology and now the new guys will be in place for the Barcelona test.

“I think these are the right steps.”

Hamilton’s “we’ll see about next year” comment, coupled with his extended absence from social media after the chaotic ending at the Yas Marina Circuit, led many to believe that he was considering leaving the pinnacle of motorsport.

Wolff was queried as to whether the 37-year-old’s decision to stay was at all conditional on the Australian’s removal from race control, and he robustly denied any such insinuation.

“No, absolutely not. I think it was for Lewis himself to decide how can I digest the events from Abu Dhabi and the same for the team, and I think we moved on,” he told BBC Radio 5Live.

“It’s in the past. It’s not something that we will, in a way, recover, but it wasn’t a condition.

“I have known Lewis for such a long time and I wasn’t [concerned about him quitting], but obviously this has had such an impact on him.

“When everything you do is about fairness and justice and then that happens to you, it is quite difficult, I understand, to cope with that.”

Hamilton is to be partnered by George Russell at the Silver Arrows this year after the Briton was promoted from Williams to replace the departing Valtteri Bottas.

The new season kicks off on 20 March in Bahrain, and the FIA will conclude the enquiry they are currently conducting into the finish to the 2021 championship on the Friday of the opening race weekend of the year.