Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is pleased with the appointment of Niels Wittich as one of the new race directors in 2022, affirming that the German has played his role to near perfection thus far.
Along with Eduardo Freitas, who has over 20 years of experience in the World Endurance Championship, Wittich was selected to replace the removed Michael Masi after the controversial end to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last season.
Masi allowed five lapped runners to pass the Safety Car ahead of the final lap of the race having initially ruled that no lapped runners would be permitted to get their lap back, leading Max Verstappen to pass Sir Lewis Hamilton and claim victory on the very last lap of the race, sealing the title in dramatic and controversial fashion.
Wolff and Hamilton were left “disillusioned” with the pinnacle of motorsport as a result, and a report into the events revealed that there had been a “misunderstanding” as to the regulations in race control, and thus Safety Car protocol now dictates that “all” lapped runners are to be allowed to pass the Safety Car at the race director’s discretion rather than “any” of them.
Furthermore, many participants in the report identified a lack of “support” available to Masi as a “key issue” in the dying moments of the race, so Herbie Blash and a virtual control room – which was likened to VAR in football by new FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem – will be on hand to support Wittich and Freitas this season.
The German has been unequivocal to the drivers as to his application of the sporting regulations, which has not gone unnoticed by a pleased Wolff.
“How he has run the first few races has been respectful, solid and he hasn’t put a single foot wrong,” said Wolff.
However, there was reportedly a minor altercation between Wittich and Hamilton regarding his enforcement of the jewellery ban which was implemented in 2005, and the Austrian queries whether Wittich needs to be stamping on his authority on that right now.
“But is that [jewellery ban] a battle he needs to have at this stage?” he added, before emphasising that this is his only criticism of the new sheriff so far.
“However, if it turns out to be the biggest unfortunate misstep of a race director, I would take it a thousand times over,” Wolff affirmed.
The 50-year-old recently described Masi as “disrespectful,” and testified that race organisers had divulged “abuse” they had received from the Australian, so it is fairly safe to say the pair will not be burying the hatchet any time soon.