Title ‘stolen’ from Mercedes made us ‘underdogs people cheer for’ – Wolff

2023 F1 season

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Lewis Hamilton’s controversial championship defeat in 2021 gave people more sympathy for Mercedes, says team principal Toto Wolff.

“I would have rather won the championship, but today we have more fans,” he told the BBC.

Hamilton was on course to win the race and the championship at the season finale in Abu Dhabi. However he lost the title to Max Verstappen who overtook him after a final-lap restart which was arranged in contravention of the rules. Wolff said he still feels the pain of the defeat a year and a half later.

“Both drivers started with equal points into this race,” he said. “Best man and best machine wins, and the best men that day didn’t win. And it’s still something that that stings, not of losing it because I would have been able [and] all of us would have been able to lose that race fair and square and admit that. But it was stolen and that made it difficult.”

FIA race director Michael Masi was removed from his position as a result of the controversy and the governing body made sweeping changes to how races are run.

“The FIA was with its next regime, a new president was voted in literally that month, and was able to admit that a mistake was made and it was “human error”, that’s how they called it,” said Wolff. “But obviously that was not bringing us the trophy back and was not making Lewis the only eight-time world champion.

“But you just need to overcome it. And I think Lewis and I are very similar in that respect, we are able to compartmentalise. But it is what it is. Much worse things happen in the world than being stolen of a Formula 1 world championship.”

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Mercedes won its eighth consecutive constructors championship that year. Verstappen’s success ended a run of seven straight title wins by Mercedes drivers.

However Wolff believes there was an upside to their controversial defeat. “The interesting phenomenon was that we as a team, and Lewis as a driver, we didn’t have a lot of credit and sympathy because we won so many times and we became the underdog in that moment. People cheered for us and that is still a positive today.”

Hamilton is yet to commit to returning to drive for Mercedes in the 2024 F1 season and beyond. Wolff said he’s “an important pillar of the team” and “I’m doing everything I can to make him stay.”

“I think there’s no need to persuade him,” he added. “He knows about all the goodness and although we struggled with the car this year and last year, he will be part of the resurrection of the team.”

Wolff also described how he and Hamilton stopped speaking for a while after Hamilton lost the 2016 world championship to his team mate Nico Rosberg in another race at the Yas Marina circuit. Hamilton won more races than Rosberg but lost the title by five points.

“A key moment was at the end of 2016 where we didn’t speak to each other for a while,” said Wolff. “So I invited him to come to my kitchen in Oxford and sit down and have a chat.

“The kind of analogy I gave to him is that also I have arguments with Susie [Wolff, his wife]. Even if we shout [at] each other, which doesn’t happen a lot, but even if we have these arguments, there’s never thought of divorcing. And that’s why I said to him ‘I don’t want to divorce you, and neither do you, because I want the best racing drivers in our cars and you want to have the best car’.

“So we came to the conclusion that we can have conflicts, we can create an atmosphere where we are able to be brutally honest with each other. And sometimes we agree to disagree, but we move on.”

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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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44 comments on “Title ‘stolen’ from Mercedes made us ‘underdogs people cheer for’ – Wolff”

  1. Toto sure lives in a fantasy world. People will always root for any other team to win when one team is crushing everyone. It has nothing to do with Abu Dhabi. Sure, it was a bad call, but luck had been heavily in MB’s favor prior to that.

    1. He surely lives in another dimension. I hope he is happy there.

    2. Correct, siverstone is where max had the title nearly stolen from him.. Toto lives in a fantasy land.

  2. You said it better than me.

  3. BLS (@brightlampshade)
    30th July 2023, 13:36

    Yes the title was decided by the race director essentially shouting next goal wins (whilst tying Hamiltons shoelaces together). But don’t worry, the Hamilton/Toto pairing is just as unlikable as the Verstappen/Horner combination. Despite that, they are still massively supported so it clearly shows it simply doesn’t matter.

    1. It’s simply not realistic to just look at that particular race (only) when evaluating the 2021 season. I understand it suits his narrative but it also makes him look rather silly.

      1. For the record, Max won 10 races in 2021, Lewis won 5. Over the season Max was the better driver.

        1. sorry, lewis won 8.

          1. One of Max’s was the farce of Spa, and one was decided by the race director breaking the rules….

  4. Can we please stop this? I know it gets the views and clicks going but it makes the site so much more toxic.

    So many analyses have been done on this already but the conclusion has generally been the Merc was the slightly better car over the season and that Verstappen was the slightly better performing and less lucky driver of the two. Let’s leave it at that, or in some other place if you like, but please just leave it.

    1. Why don’t you simply ignore it?

    2. Who says Merc had the better car?? Adrian Newey (and other insiders such as Mark Hughes) rated the RB the best car of 2021.

  5. The 2021 championship is one that needs to have an asterisk next to it in the record books with a note detailing how the race director breaking standard protocols & procedures basically manipulated the outcome of the final GP by putting the show above the sport & it’s integrity.

    I was a neutral that day. I didn’t care who came out on top between Max & Lewis, Both deserved it as both are 2 of the best drivers in the sports history.

    But the way it happened just felt unfair & unsatisfying and instead of celebrating the crowning of a new first time world champion we were instead left with an unsatisfying farce that tainted the outcome and that is a shame for Max and the sport as a whole.

    1. Merc could have pitted multiple times for new tires that race. They made their own decision to be on the backfoot..

      1. Merc did exactly what they needed to do, to win, if the regulations where followed correctly. They lost because they were not followed correctly.

        Blaming them for not being psychic is one of the most stupid arguments you could ever make on this topic.

      2. @maxv As N says, they calculately correctly based on application of procedures, not the race director going into ‘sandpit’ mode and inventing new rules on the spot.

    2. 2021, 2022 and now 2023 will need asterixis next to them seeing as there’s been known rule breaking to benefit him.

  6. Toto still being sour, priceless.

  7. What a delusional character. Millions where hong and praying for the Mercedes downfall at long lasts and now they claim to be the underdog? Rarely heard anything as ridiculous as this… The man has gone completely off the deep end.

  8. Raspberry sound ON

  9. Hoping and praying

  10. Constantijn Blondel
    30th July 2023, 14:21

    Toto, I kind of like you, but oftentimes you’re more of an overly dramatic husky than a wolf(f)

  11. Hamilton 8 x FIA Rules F1 Champion. Wolff should have taken them to an international tribunal rather than accepting the findings of the Kangaroo Court, Headed now by Ben Sulliedman. The F1 Press are a disgrace.
    Hamilton was Robbed of the trophy but is nonetheless the 2021 Champion.

    Leclerc 1 x FIA Rules 2022 F1 Champion. 2020 was the trial year for the Cost Cap, NO EXCUSES FOR THE MAJOR 1.8M BREACH BY THE DOG WHISTLE TEAM, THE DWT.

    The Braketester will always be tainted. ALLWAYS. it will never go away.

    BrakeTester 1 x Masi Cup Champion.
    BrakeTester 2 x CostCapBuster Cup Champion.

    1. Calm down, you’ll pull a muscle.

    2. If you want to play that game, Lewis would still only be 7x champ as he’d have lost 208 to Massa when they correctly nullified the Singapore race due to Renault’s race-fixing.

      Or are you applying the rules selectively as well?

    3. Give it a 8-year ban for the crane trick and it’s 0 wins
      You make your rules, I make mine

      1. delusional

        1. No “rocketship” in this post?? How come??? ROFL

          1. u still dont understand, this is a quote from verstappen on radio after the race? lol

    4. blag flag for Hamilton in Silverstone

  12. Chris Horton
    30th July 2023, 15:51



  13. You’re not at Williams any more…

  14. I’d pay for every single RedBull fan to do that. Honestly i haven’t meet a single one of them I can stand for longer than 30 seconds, Specially the loosers with orange smoke bombs at every race!

  15. Masi’s was one of the worst sporting decisions by an arbiter ever made – after a series of races when he and the stewards completely lost the plot (from Interlagos onwards). But are Mercedes really more popular? Or even Hamilton? I don’t see it.

  16. Every article like this just emphasizes how much of a loss the death of Niki Lauda has been for Toto and Mercedes.

    1. And how much of a loss the death of Charlie Whiting was for F1.

  17. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    30th July 2023, 17:15

    I’m not sure I would say that they’ve gained fans but they certainly did gain sympathy from anyone following any sport. Noone wants to see that in any sport because it means that it could also happen to them.

    But it’s clear that the wound has still not healed and it’s going to take a lot more time for it to heal.

  18. Talking like this would get him banned from some sports.

  19. I thought Mercedes still had the fastest car in 2021 and won the title. Maybe Toto forgot about that.

    1. And therewith failed to capitalise on it Marketing wise – which is one of the main reasons Mercedes is in this sports (well, it used to be a sport, not so sure these days..). I bet the Board of Daimler Benz was very happy with the team boss wasting away all their investments – 8 years in a row WCC… and not celebrating/capitalising on it.

  20. Merc should start living in the present instead of in the past. Maybe they would even get their act together and build a fast car.

    1. That is the thought that prevails most with me. Their unnecessary lack of focus is costing them dearly. They were only good when ahead. Prayed for some competitiveness, got it and then massively dropped the ball by forgetting to focus on their own performance but instead starting to throw everything but the kitchen sink towards their competitor. Imagine all this energy being channeled into their own team and performance. They’d probably still be miles ahead of everyone. I really feel their shareholder construction, keeping Toto in place, is what hurts them most at the moment. Toto needs to make way for a new team boss that can bring the team back to life again. He was instrumental and extremely successful but isn’t the right man at the right place anymore. Circumstances change. The team needs to adapt and move on.

  21. He’s living in an echo chamber … two British drivers, a British wife, house and the factory all there … and he thinks what he hears on a daily basis is representative of the wider world.
    Heads up Toto, you’re not that popular … people haven’t forgotten nearly a decade of domination, cheating, and lousy political attitude on your part.
    Oh, and nothing was stolen you desk abuser … you clowns lost that as a team throughout the year.

  22. Certainly “underdog” , happily though people aren’t cheering and the dog is lifting his leg.

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