FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem announced a number of changes to how F1 races would be officiated on Thursday in the wake of the controversial end to last season’s championship showdown between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
Race director Michael Masi has been replaced by Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, while a new virtual race control room will support FIA officials. Herbie Blash, the long-serving number two to Charlie Whiting, also returns as a senior advisor.
Mercedes initially protested the race result in Abu Dhabi after seeing Hamilton lose the championship on the final lap restart. It ultimately dropped all action after the FIA confirmed its plans to investigate and reform.
Speaking at the launch of Mercedes’ new 2022 car on Friday, Wolff said he thought the “right steps have been taken” and that he was “optimistic about the changes that have been implemented”.
“Certainly the role of race director is not easy, and now we’re having two very experienced guys up there, that is good,” Wolff said.
“But the support structure that has been built around them is essential, not only in the race director’s room, but also with a remote control room where the race directors can rely on feedback and inputs 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 yes, I’m happy with what has been implemented by the incoming president.”
Michael Masi, Race Director
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
Wolff denied that Mercedes’ decision to drop its appeal had been linked to Masi’s exit, but he said the division that arose over some of race control’s decisions last year showed the need for change.
“The restructuring within how decisions are being made in Formula 1, sporting decisions have been made, and also technical decisions, was necessary,” Wolff said.
“Last year was a great season, but it created a lot of polarisation with decisions that were not always easy to understand.”
Hamilton was known to be disillusioned with the FIA’s decisions in Abu Dhabi following his defeat to Max Verstappen, and said on Friday that it was a “difficult time”, prompting him to step away from the F1 world over the winter.
Wolff said the decisions in Abu Dhabi remained “a shock” and “unprecedented”, but stressed the need to focus on the coming season as Hamilton goes in search of a record-breaking eighth world title.
“We have to move on from that,” Wolff said.
“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. But we need to look into 2022 and, especially today launching the car, it should be the moment that we can really, with the steps that have been taken by the FIA, embark with encouragement into the season.”