Toto Wolff, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2021

Wolff – Horner and I “overstepped” in radio messages to Masi in 2021

2021 F1 season

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Toto Wolff admits he and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner may have “overstepped” in their direct communication with race director Michael Masi this season.

Through a tumultuous 2021 season that was marred by a series of highly controversial incidents and stewards’ decisions, FOM introduced clips of teams’ radio communications with Masi into the world feed broadcast for the very first time.

This revealed how team principals, such as Wolff and Horner, sometimes make direct pleas to the race director instead of relying on their team’s sporting director.

Most memorably after the opening lap clash between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton at the British Grand Prix, Horner was heard asking Masi to ‘deal with the situation appropriately’. Then, during the controversial safety car restart at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a furious Wolff implored Masi that his actions were “so not right” over radio.

Reflecting after the season, Wolff says he feels that he and Horner both may have gone too far in advocating for their teams through the direct channel with race control.

“I need to take myself by the nose – and Christian,” Wolff says.

“We were giving us the opportunity to talk to the race director directly and because we fight so fiercely for the interest of our teams, we – all of us – overstepped. This certainly was part of the failures this year that, under pressure from the team principals also, the race director’s life wasn’t made easier, certainly. So we need to come back.”

Typically, a team’s sporting director holds the responsibility to communicate with race control regarding incidents on track or concerns about safety, sporting or logistical matters during a race weekend. Red Bull sporting director, Jonathan Wheatley, was most commonly heard conversing with Masi over radio in broadcasts this season, with Ron Meadows doing so on behalf of Mercedes. Wolff believes that only those members of the teams should be permitted to have contact with the race director.

“I think that the team principal shouldn’t speak directly to the race director,” Wolff said. “It should be the sporting directors.

“I would even go one step further. I don’t think that the sporting director should be lobbying the race director or exercising pressure. I think they should be pointing to situations that the race director or his colleagues might have not spotted, but not lobby. Not pressurise.”

Wolff’s comments come after Formula 1 managing director, Ross Brawn, suggested that the sport would consider no longer broadcasting teams’ communications with race control following a spate of controversial incidents this season.

“I agree with Ross, but I equally blame Ross and myself because we have been part of the decision making to broadcast more of the channels for the purpose of transparency and entertainment for the fans,” says Wolff.

“There is so much going on on the intercom that giving fans a little bit of an overview of all the little dramas that happen. Is the car breaking down? Are we having some kind of strategy discussions?”

“It was meant well, but I think we overshot.”

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Will Wood
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39 comments on “Wolff – Horner and I “overstepped” in radio messages to Masi in 2021”

  1. I died laughing in Silverstone when I heard the email radio from Toto, and then the “I am coming up”. I was naive to think that it would not occur again, but given how Verstappen races Hamilton, it was bound to be abused.

    “I agree with Ross, but I equally blame Ross and myself because we have been part of the decision making to broadcast more of the channels for the purpose of transparency and entertainment for the fans,” says Wolff.

    It’s nice, but there needs to be a limit set to it. We cannot have teams trying to influence the race director. We can say like “ driver forced us off track, and did not leave any room”, or “ There was dust and our driver could not see the yellow flag”. Nothing else like, do not give us a penalty, or do not bring a yellow flag, or give this driver a penalty. Just justify what happened without proposing an outcome.

    I want some radio from car to car, driver to driver, and then a push button or something for the driver to speak to driver in front or behind. That could be a nice for entertainment rather than manufactured and scripted drama or like the safety car from Abu Dhabi.

  2. Generous of Toto to admit his mistake, but the damage has already been done. The FIA will surely change protocol to redcue/eliminate lobbying, as it makes Masi’s already tough job even worse. I think Toto is aware of this though, as his similar “suggestion” implies he’s trying to reduce the chances of the FIA doing something more drastic?

    It was fun listening to the FIA radios for a season, but in hindsight it doesn’t add much to the spectacle.

    1. He did not need to drag Horner into it. Horner had a couple daring remarks, we already suspected team principals, pleaded with race direction, we did not know however that some dish out calls. I cannot understand how fom broadcasted some of Toto’s commands. As they started to broadcast these, it all backfired, It felt like Fom was sending out a plea for help but as all things f1 it was a top team’s idea.
      Wolff sees it now as a bad idea, is he sincere or will he be sending more emails?

      1. Horner absolutely had to be brought into this.

        Horners command of the language and his comments were more telling.
        His comments weren’t simply off the cuff, but loaded to unduly influence Massi.

        Telling was his reference to ‘sporting gods’ – when he first call before the last crash requesting a ‘miracle from the sporting gods’. He wasn’t just speaking to Massi but to anyone picking up that transmission. It’s as if he were in league with those ‘sporting gods’ speaking with their authority. Im sure this ‘trigger’ will have other connotations to those in the know.

        His later remarks , directed to Massi to clear the back markers, when Massi’ first instincts were to leave them in place.
        He also said they only needed 1 lap. Meaning if massi had more than 1 lap in mind, only 1 was desired by Horner’s Redbull.

        By comparison, Toto’s command of the language was faultering, less precise with its meaning. Toto was responding like for like, yet he was always at a disadvantage in that situation.

        One could see how they were both doiing the same thing, without doing the same thing.

        1. “Telling was his reference to ‘sporting gods’ – when he first call before the last crash requesting a ‘miracle from the sporting gods’. He wasn’t just speaking to Massi but to anyone picking up that transmission.”

          You want to say he ordered a crash? This is how religious got created, with such freedom of interpretation. On the other hand Toto was very direct. He told Massi not to do certain things because he’d prefer different outcome. Like when he told Massi not to use safety car because… Well, because Mercedes’ success is obviously more important than safety. To him of course it is, I’d be thinking the same, but he said it out loud. Perhaps he needs to work on his social skills because I’ve no doubt they are both equally cunning. At the end of they day they are just people, and people very good at their jobs. I dislike their act, but anyone who’s ever had a boss knows what they can be like when things don’t go their way.


            A super agressive Race Engineer to Latifi:

            “follow instructions”

            lap 52:
            “Not this lap, next lap Nicky”, “… could be your last attempt”,

            lap 53 :
            “It has to be this lap mate, Do everything”.

            Then boom. That car crashes.

            The pretext to all this. A fruitless attempt to catch and overtake Shumacher in the Hass.
            Which ironically scuppers Hamilton’s attempt to overtake the other Shumacher.

  3. Fully agree with Wolff. The only person with a line to race control should be the sporting director. And the only communication should be to a) report an incident, b) to respond to any request for further information related to the incident should it be needed and c) to receive any direction from race control.

    Keep it simple and factual.

  4. Barry Bens (@barryfromdownunder)
    19th December 2021, 12:44

    “I would even go one step further. I don’t think that the sporting director should be lobbying the race director or exercising pressure. I think they should be pointing to situations that the race director or his colleagues might have not spotted, but not lobby. Not pressurise.”

    I can’t see that going wrong. Ever. /sarcasm

  5. This is the difference between Wolff and Horner, Wolff owns up to his mistakes and the explains the different culture in the two teams. (honesty).

    1. yeah. what if Toto is on a mission to fix his appearance after what he has done in Abu Dhabi? i would not trust it a 100%, but yeah..good he said that

    2. This is not an honest way to own up to your mistakes. It’s the typical “I did wrong, but so did others” kind of excuse. Damage limitation. Not that Horner would do it any different.

    3. 100% agree. Where’s Horner’s apology?

      1. Mark in Florida
        20th December 2021, 15:28

        Well John, Horner is being more honest about it than Toto. He probably doesn’t care and he’s not trying to sugar coat it like Toto. Toto is a politician pure and simple, When he and his cohorts forced Ross Brawn off of the team, when that happened I learned all I needed to know about that two faced snake.

      2. Horner, Red Bull, and Verstappen never make mistakes.

        I know, because I read it in a Red Bull press release.

    4. Toto would have been better admitting to his own mistakes without pointing the finger at other people for their mistakes.

      I’ve not been impressed with Toto several times this year, but he really let himself down in Abu Dhabi.

  6. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
    19th December 2021, 13:42

    Considering Horner has just told the world Verstappen doesn’t moan over the radio I doubt if the same admission will be made about overstepping as Wolff has.

    1. Not meant as a reply. I’ll report this now and repost separately.

  7. I commend Wolff highly for admitting this. Both him and Horner have drove me crazy this season. I think this admission says a lot about why they’re blaming the FIA for the Abu Dhabi farce and not Red Bull’s “you only need one racing lap” message; they would have probably made a similar message (and I mean it was the same race Toto was pleading to not have a SC earlier on).

    I agree that we need to restrict this communication, but not outlaw it entirely. Obviously, they should make it so that only the Sporting Director can be involved in the communications, to avoid the RD getting overrun by several messages from different people in the same team.

    In terms of what should be allowed over the airwaves, I definitely feel that the kind of lobbying we’ve seen from both sides this season should be outlawed. However things like reporting an incident (like @krichelle says above), or communicating safety critical information, should be allowed to stay (especially the latter), and obviously any (reasonable) to a request or order the FIA have sent to the teams.

    Finally, for this to work, they need an effective way of policing it. Could they use a similar yellow card system to football managers? For example, do it once in a race, you get an official warning, do it again, you get a fine and a pit wall ban for the next race weekend? And if you reach a certain number of yellow cards across a whole season, you could then get a pit wall ban? Just a suggestion but if they don’t attach a punishment to it there won’t be any incentive to stop doing it.

    1. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
      19th December 2021, 14:38

      The channel has been open in previous years but only made public this year. The whole problem with hearing these broadcasts and drivers’ communications is they are not at the exact time when they happen and so become misleading sometimes or mostly.

      Having not heard previous years we don’t know what went on. If 2022 lives up to Brawn’s expectations then things could actually be worse with 3, 4 or more teams so close they will be aggrieved at any decision they don’t feel was right.

      I think it would be better to turn it off as well as your suggestion to not allow direct connection to the race director.

  8. What’s a bit odd about this is that Wolff apparently was involved, as he says, in the decision to broadcast more of these messages knowing that it’d be ‘good for the show’, then he publicly mocked his over-excited colleagues earlier in the year, and now he (somehow) says that this was all a bad idea.

    Yet despite that, he didn’t stop himself from getting super involved, and there also wasn’t anyone in the Mercedes team who felt confident to tell him that it might be best to leave this matter to the people whose job it is to talk to race control. Especially given his somewhat infamous headset-related antics.

    But anyway, it’s just as much Masi’s job to ignore these things as it is Horner’s and Wolff’s to keep it together. Instead of saying ‘Go ahead Toto’, Masi – had he indeed been overburdened by these messages – could have just declined the call. Hopefully they all improve on this for next season.

    1. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
      19th December 2021, 16:02

      But anyway, it’s just as much Masi’s job to ignore these things

      I agree. He forgot where he was and what he was doing and screwed up. The FIA came to his aid with a whole load of word play nonsense.

      The whole back and forth at other controversial times has been pretty bad.

  9. Only racing directors. Equally, no unnecessarily manipulative lobbying.

  10. Well good for him. But the way horner contacted the RD and the way Toto did it are worlds apart.
    Toto completely lost it and started screaming and should be penalised for it.
    Both need to stop with this ridiculous ways to influence the RD.

    1. should be penalised for it.

      What penalty would you prescribe if you were in charge? (I need a laugh this evening).

    2. Toto “completely lost it and started screaming” when the race director had announced something which broke the regulations, with only seconds before the damage would be permanently done and his driver would lose the title without a miracle. It may not be acceptable, but it’s completely understandable.

    3. Well erikje that may be because Horner got what he wanted?

  11. As a fan, I quite enjoyed hearing all the drama and histrionics on the Race Control radio loop. To me, it did add to the show—if not to the integrity of the competition.

    Perhaps they could add a person to race control who is responsible for communications to the teams—sort of like the CapCom role in Mission Control at NASA. All decisions from the race director and the stewards—and feedback from the teams about them—would come through this person, and Toto and Christian could say whatever they want to them. The RD could listen in, of course, but wouldn’t need to respond and would be more isolated from the teams’ direct influence. It would let the fans still eavesdrop on each team’s thinking as well as lighten the RD’s workload, which everyone seems to agree would be helpful.

    1. RandomMallard
      20th December 2021, 8:57

      @markzastrow I considered this idea as well. Have someone else who listens and responds to the team to FIA radio, then determines whether it warrants being forwarded on to the Race Director. The key problem I thought of then thinking about this though was that having an extra layer of communication involved could delay the passing on of safety critical information to the Race Director.

      1. @RandomMallard I agree, that would be the downside. That’s why I was thinking Masi should be able to listen in to the loop (if he is free). I’m guessing that Masi already listens in to driver–team comms directly, since the drivers always seem to be performing their on-track reports of conditions with him in mind!

  12. It was easy to guess that this would happen.
    It was going to far.
    Aside of the pure “sport” stuff, it would backfire to Mercedes in term of image and marketing.
    And if Toto says that, i think he has been asked to, to try to repair some of stuff, because there were some risk.
    I dont think he is stupid and a part of him may have realise it really.
    But i don’t forget that neither him or Horner are holly men.
    They run teams and business, they have long teeth, and they don’t like to be … well, they don’t like to have things on stepping in the middle of their way.

    So …. Marketing and communication are good in some way .
    but that’s not enough :)

    I’ll way to see next year if you stay inside the line you’ve drawn …
    otherwise ….
    It would interferes the race …. ehehehe :p

    not only words.

    Do really the talking on the track.
    Within the track.
    Not subtly pushing people out of track.

    And no, i don’t care if others do it.
    If some want to be clean, be clean.
    Not just say “i’ll be clean”

    Words have meanings

  13. I wonder if there would have been as big of a fan reaction and interest in the protest/appeal if this broadcast deal never happened. Sure one part of it was the incorrect application of the rules, but the lobbying by Horner/Wolff really made an absolute mess of things and set the mindset that things weren’t being done correctly.

  14. The FIA set up basically an adversarial adjudicative process. So both principals were obliged to act accordingly as fiduciaries for their respective teams. Masi’s inconsistency and equivocal responses to the principals just made it more important to them to stay in his grille all the time. It’s a combination of the the lack of respect Masi earned and the very real sense that lobbying was effective. I hated both of their behavior but I also can’t really blame them that much.

  15. Yep, there should be no lobbying in the moment. Absolutely. Also however we do need a race control that simply operates by the rules laid down and a rule set that should not allow for any subjectivity and be clear as day to all competitors. Is that so difficult to ask for?

  16. A question – Has anyone heard any comment/statement from Marko at all about Verstappen winning the WDC or the way in which it was won?

    1. I only read him saying Hamilton was a bad loser because Merc. considering an appeal,same line of thought Verstappen talked. Don’t think we’re going to hear doubts from there @john-h

    2. RandomMallard
      20th December 2021, 9:07

      @johnrkh It’s mainly your regular incoherent Verstappen worship we’ve got used to getting from Marko. He did a lot of praising Max and a lot of criticising Mercedes, firstly for not pitting under SC, the reasoning for which is quite clear, and then for bringing a barrister into the protest hearing (which I’ll admit, even though the decisions in the race were completely wrong, did annoy me a little bit). He also made it clear that he feels Max will never go to Mercedes.

      Personally, I really don’t like Marko. I’m not really many people do. I mean, obviously the RB Junior Program has been very successful, but that doesn’t stop Marko being extremely annoying, and obviously very cut throat if you aren’t the next Max Verstappen. I have friends who are Red Bull fans who can’t tolerate him.

  17. What I would expect from Mercedes is not some tantrum fits… But hunkering down and getting to work for next season.

    Use some moral high ground, lobby for change, and enjoy WCC win.

  18. “Wolff’s comments come after Formula 1 managing director, Ross Brawn, suggested that the sport would consider no longer broadcasting teams’ communications with race control”

    Big miss again from Ross. It isnt about broadcasting it. It should not be allowed. Says a lot about the man’s attitude I am afraid. Hope I am wrong and he just was clumsy in choosing his words.

    1. Teams have always been in communication with the race director for obvious reasons.

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