Formula 1’s reputation was further tarnished on Friday night when the meeting between Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and FIA president Muhammed Ben Sulayem was shrouded in contrived secrecy, with Lewis Hamilton’s future participation in the sport remaining unresolved.
The two great beasts met in private in Geneva to discuss the controversial end of the season in Abu Dhabi, with Hamilton losing the title to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on the final lap.
But on Friday evening, both sides withdrew in silence over the nature, scope and outcome of the talks. The pact of secrecy destroys the FIA’s outspoken ambition to introduce a new breath of transparency.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff (left) spoke to new F1 ruler Mohammed Ben Sulayem (right) to discuss last season’s farcical conclusion on Friday – with Michael Masi’s future debated
Mercedes demands race director Masi be fired over Abu Dhabi car overlap talk
Clearly no firm agreement has been reached, with both sides reluctantly agreeing to stick to the ridiculously long deadline the FIA has set out to investigate the matter – mid-March.
Race director Michael Masi hopes to keep his job after the Dec 12 affairs, when he controversially pulled in the safety car and so Verstappen, on newly-swapped new tires, passed Hamilton and won a race that the Briton had dominated. Sources close to the scene are divided on Masi’s prospects of remaining in office.
While Wolff wants the 42-year-old Australian official fired, with suggestions his departure is a condition to see Hamilton see the last two years of his £30m annual contract, others believe Mercedes is bullying the FIA and that they should not dictate how Formula 1 is run.
Mercedes star Hamilton will likely move on for 2022, but the outcome of this meeting is crucial
The investigation will be concluded at the FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting on March 18, two days before the opening race in Bahrain. An update on the direction of travel is expected sooner, as the smart money on Hamilton continues.
Ben Sulayem, a 61-year-old rally driver from Dubai who met Wolff, was elected president of the ruling FIA in December, and at the top of his inbox is the Abu Dhabi debacle.
Wolff wants Masi removed from his role before the start of the 2022 season in Bahrain in March. At this point, every question in F1 circles was about Hamilton’s future and whether he will return after such a controversial defeat.
Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton on last lap after controversial safety car call
Since losing the title to Red Bull rival Verstappen on the last lap, Hamilton, 37, has refused to commit to the remainder of his two-year contract with Mercedes, which is worth around £70 million.
Mercedes has previously withdrawn their legal action against the ruling FIA, believing they had no chance of winning an appeal, as it would require the FIA to overthrow their own stewards with further major damage to the sport.
But Mercedes, the 2021 Constructors’ Champion, demanded the thorough investigation currently underway to restore F1’s integrity after the Abu Dhabi debacle.
Masi cannot continue as race director because he “has done a lot of damage” and confidence in his judgment has “totally evaporated,” says former driver Johnny Herbert.
“I think he has done too much damage to Formula 1 and I think because of the position he is in, we have to be confident,” said Herbert. Sky F1. “I think that trust has completely evaporated.”
But Martin Brundle, fellow Sky F1 pundit, isn’t so sure that changing one man is the solution, believing Masi on the water won’t ‘solve the problem’ as he pushes for more reforms.
Brundle said: “This is way too big a job for one person to do in a 23-race season, it will only grow. Masi will need a lot of support if he stays and I suspect they are looking at that at the moment.”
Former race car driver Johnny Herbert (right) feels there is no more confidence in Masi in his position
Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone suggested earlier this month that race director Masi had been ‘overwhelmed’ for the entire 2021 F1 season – although he is adamant that the right decisions were made in the controversial Abu Dhabi title decider.
Ecclestone has told the German publication BILD“He was overwhelmed with his job in many cases all season and maybe shouldn’t have had it at all. But it was the right decision to let them race.”
Speaking to Sky, Ecclestone dismissed rumors that Mercedes had been ‘robbed’ as he referred to a first lap incident in which Hamilton went off the track after an attempt to overtake Verstappen and retained the lead.
He added: ‘About being robbed, it’s complete nonsense. If you want to think about it carefully, on the first lap of that race he [Hamilton] went off the track and came back and Verstappen stayed on the track and did absolutely nothing wrong.
“Lewis wasn’t punished for that at all, so he shouldn’t complain too much. These things happen all the time in sports. We shouldn’t blame the race director, he did exactly what he had to do.’