Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Yas Marina, 2021

F1’s refereeing changes must end “freestyle” interpretation of rules – Wolff

2022 F1 season

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Sweeping changes to Formula 1’s officiating in the wake of the Abu Dhabi controversy have been welcomed by Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff.

He said F1’s rules had been applied in a “freestyle” manner in recent years, but rejected claims the season finale had been fixed to prevent Lewis Hamilton winning the world championship.

The FIA yesterday announced a series of changes to how F1 races will be run after race director Michael Masi was accused of failing to follow the sport’s rules correctly in the season finale. The replacement of Masi as race director, and appointment of a new, three-strong team which will manage races this year, was among the revisions detailed by the governing body’s president Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

“I believe that the right steps have been taken and I am optimistic about the changes that have been implemented,” said Wolff. “Certainly the role of a race director is not easy and now with having two very experienced guys up there, that is good.

“But the support structure that has been built around them is essential. Not only in the race directors’ room but also with a remote control room where the race directors can rely on feedback and input to make the decision-making process easier for them.

“I believe that the last couple of years we have seen a little bit of freestyle in the interpretation of the regulations so I am happy with what has been implemented by the incoming president.”

Following the race in Abu Dhabi Mercedes served notification of its intention to appeal against the result. Three days later it confirmed it would not proceed, while the FIA announced an inquiry into the events of the race.

Wolff denied Mercedes had stepped back from launching an appeal on the understanding Masi would not continue in his role. “Dropping the appeal [being] linked to anyone leaving the FIA is not true,” he said. “I don’t know where that comes from.

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“I think that the restructuring within how decisions are being made in Formula 1, sporting decisions have been made and also technical decisions, was necessary. Last year was a great season but it created a lot of polarisation with decisions that were not always easy to understand.”

On his radio at the end of the race, Hamilton said he felt the outcome has been “manipulated”. He is due to speak to media for the first time since the grand prix later today.

However Wolff made it clear Mercedes do not believe the race was rigged against their drivers. “No, nothing is fixed,” he said. “I think it was just the circumstances and decisions that were unprecedented and how they came about, certainly for us was a shock.

“Three laps to the end we got a message that the cars were not allowed to un-lap themselves and three minutes later, four minutes later, suddenly there’s two messages that came out of nowhere. Now obviously we know what happened in the background, unknown to us, and then the championship was gone within literally half a minute of decision-making process. That’s unprecedented.”

Wolff said the time has come to “move on” and draw a line under the controversy. “I think it’s in the past and with the measures that were announced yesterday by Mohammed, I think we need to put it aside. We are not going to forget it because that’s simply not possible.

“We need to look into 2022 and especially today launching the car should be the moment that we can really, with the steps that have been taken by the FIA, embark with encouragement into the season.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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20 comments on “F1’s refereeing changes must end “freestyle” interpretation of rules – Wolff”

  1. As long as the rules are applied fairly and equitably going forward then nobody can legitimately complain.

    (Although the idea of Christian Horner, Helmut Marko and co going more than a few races without belly-aching about how the world is against them seems pretty far-fetched)

    1. Or Merc. Or anyone in a battle of some kind… Look at the whole Aston/Racing point vs McLaren etc

      If anyone thinks this whole thing is one sided must be one sided themselves.

  2. four minutes later, suddenly there’s two messages that came out of nowhere. Now obviously we know what happened in the background, unknown to us,

    what’s this???

    1. Sky Gossip.
      Old sound bites in a new context..

      1. Radio transmissions from Red Bull that obviously affected Masi’s strategy.

        Which Mercedes would not have heard while they were talking to Race Control.

    2. This sounds like a reference to Masi suddenly changing his mind, the two messages which suddenly, against all previous precedents and against the written procedures, instructed only a handful of select cars through and also call the safety car in a lap earlier than it should.

      1. But he’s saying messages “in the background” and “unknown to us”. Red Bull’s radio to Masi wasn’t either of these was it?

        1. I don’t think he is saying it was those 2 messages were in the background, but that messages were going on between RC and teams in the background which they were unaware of at the time. Even those messages which were broadcast on TV at three times were not broadcast live.

  3. It would suit mr. Wolff better to be quiet. Some self reflection on his role in all of this should lead to seeing and hearing very little of him upcoming season.

    1. biased like always

    2. He was asked a question during their own car launch, not like he would decline to answer. Apart from that, first time he speaks about this for quite a few weeks.

      Self reflection is indeed great Meryton would love to see it on all sides. One could read some of that in both his answer as well as in the FIA changing procedures. Anyone else?

      1. Maryton, sorry for getting that wrong.

        1. Grr, Mayrton

  4. I think that there needs to be:
    – a simplification of the rules. For example, just require drivers to stay within the white lines, rather than have exception after exception. Penalize them if they routinely leave the track or if they do so during a duel (and weren’t naturally penalized already). Also, if people brake too late for a chicane and cut it, always have either a slow path they need to follow or penalize them (it’s track racing, not drag racing).
    – no more nonsensical acceptance of routine rule-breaking as ‘gaining no permanent advantage’ (if that were true, why would drivers do it again and again?).
    – consistent stewarding. I get the impression that they aren’t stewarding to a shared and fairly clear understanding of the rules. I get that opinions can differ on intent or on how much space needs to be left exactly, but the disagreements seem to be about way more fundamental issues like whether late dive bombs are allowed and whether you can squeeze out the other car after the apex. Stewards should agree on whether those kind of things are allowed.
    – no more ‘referring to the stewards.’ The stewards should be looking out for violations themselves.
    – clear rules on ‘giving back the position.’ This started as an informal way to prevent a (worse) time penalty and gradually became institutionalized, but without there actually being clear rules. With DRS, it’s now possible to give back the position in such a way that you can repass fairly easily, which in turn incentivizes the chasing driver to refuse to overtake when offered in such a way (hence the ridiculous spectacle at Saudi Arabia). So either require the overtake to be given in a way that doesn’t give DRS, or even better, get rid of DRS.
    – no more direct communication with the team bosses. Communication should be professionalized as well, rather than begging for favorable outcomes.

    1. Fully agree with every point @aapje

    2. Seems to cover most of the issues there are yeah @aapje.

    3. I can only think we are all overseeing something obvious @aapje, because I too agree as many here that seems to cover a lot of the issues, and yet it is not the answer the FIA gives ;-)

  5. The FIA could have continued to pretend as if Masi didn’t butcher the result, but the fans know better…if changes were not made, fans would not be tuning in to see the latest “fix” from F1. Forget it. Max drove beautifully the entire season, had some unlucky breaks, created some unlucky breaks for himself, but in the last race he was bested when it mattered most. Until Masi. The stain of this isn’t going away, and true race fans will never forget what happened. That is unfortunate for everybody, because Max is a worth champion, as would have been Lewis, but the crime is that Masi screwed them both, along with himself. What a calamity.

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