Wolff and Hamilton skip FIA awards gala and appeal

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2020 Tuscan Grand Prix, Sunday - LAT Images

Mercedes announced today that they would not appeal the decision of the race stewards at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi. The FIA, for it’s part in the incident, has announced the creation of a commission to analyze what happened and improve upon the governance and regulations to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Mercedes said they were keen to work with this group and lend their insight on what happened and how to avoid it in the future.

The FIA prize gala is this evening and it was announced that Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff would not be in attendance.

“Both of us won’t be there,” explained Wolff.

“I won’t be there because of my loyalty to Lewis and because of my own personal integrity.

“But we will be represented as a team by James Alison, who will be taking the trophy on behalf of all the people in Brackley and Brixworth who should celebrate our eighth consecutive world championship title, who deserve to be celebrated, because it’s a fantastic achievement that we are very proud of.”

There’s little doubt that I wouldn’t be handling this situation with perfect finesse and professionalism given the emotion and race incident so one can understand Toto, his wife Susie, and Lewis not attending the FIA prize-giving gala tonight.

In fact, on the balance of it, one might be perplexed as to why they chose not to appeal the race steward decision but they have. I was thinking about this notion of dropping the appeal but not attending the gala. They are willing to let the result stand but not comfortable in attending the gala that awards the final results which celebrates their 8th consecutive constructor’s title. I think in anyone’s book you could agree with that decision.

Then I was thinking about Toto’s words.

“I won’t be there because of my loyalty to Lewis and because of my own personal integrity.”

I then read a personal statement from Toto’s wife, Susie, that said:

“What happened is still hard to comprehend and leaves me with a sick feeling. Not the losing – and not Max or RedBull – they are deserving winners and we always knew it was a strong possibility we may not win – but the way in which Lewis was robbed has left me in utter disbelief.

The decision of one person within the governing body who applied a rule in a way which has never been done before in F1 single handedly decided the F1 Driver World Championship. Rules are rules, they can’t be changed on a whim by one individual at the end of a race.

@lewishamilton you have shown incredible integrity and dignity in the face of injustice. You are the greatest there has ever been. The outcome of the last laps on Sunday? Those who know, they know, even those who can’t quite bring themselves to admit it.

Congratulations Max and congratulations to each and every member of @mercedesamgf1 on your record breaking eighth constructors title – I hope by March of next year there is a governing body with sporting integrity and fairness at its core so I can fall back in love with F1.”

The first thing to note is that they are not taking aim at Max or Red Bull for what happened. They are squarely focused on Michael Masi who made the decision. I think some fans could learn from that level of professionalism because Max and Red Bull made the right strategy calls every lap of that race and placed themselves in a position to take advantage of any late-race incident that might happen (and often times it does but clearly not with this result). That is racing and has been part of how teams have approached racing since racing began…you have to be in it to win it.

I think I would be making a similar decision not to attend the gala tonight but there is a part of me that would struggle personally with that decision. I am speaking of myself here, not Toto.

Lewis is such a huge part of the Mercedes program but had that team designed and fielded a car like the Williams or the Haas, Lewis would have no titles with the team and it is because of the 1,000+ men and women at the factory that all of this was possible. It is because of them that Lewis enjoys six of his seven world titles.

It would weigh on me that I represent all of them as they all just won their 8th constructor’s title and that is an impossibly hard thing to do in F1. It’s such a fine line between honoring Lewis and respecting what he means to that team and also honoring the men and women who made it all possible. I would struggle with that if I were Toto so thankfully I am not.

I was also reflecting on Susie’s choice of words and to be fair, I most likely would have some biting words in my statement to make a point. I would be furious on Lewis’s behalf. Did he get screwed by a safety car period with a ham-fisted call on the race restart? Indeed. Was it “robbery” and “injustice”? The suggestion that perhaps next year the FIA will have “sporting integrity” is a very pointed accusation when I reflect on it.

The FIA saved Romain Grosjean’s life due to their race start procedure. It saved the lives of several drivers with the HANS device and sporting regulations. The FIA have not always got it right, however, and that’s truly unfortunate in this situation. No organization is perfect, as evidenced by Abu Dhabi, but they get it right more times than not and this incident isn’t an asterisk on Max or Red Bull show much as the FIA.

We’ve been critical since 2007 that the FIA need to have a standardized officiating crew that worked with Charlie Whiting (now Michael Masi) and the answer to this concept has always been that they can’t afford it. The reality is that the race steward positions are handed out to local car club members as a “thank you” for their continued FIA membership, support and fees as well as votes in electing the FIA presidency. It’s political at best. We understood this but felt there surely was another way to involve these local car club members that didn’t impact the sport in such dramatic ways.

The guest steward concept was ushered into the sport but that’s been a mixed bag because many professional drivers see things differently. If you’ve listened to our past podcasts, you’ll know that I have often struggled with decisions that have been made when Derrick Warrick has been the guest steward. Some feel having a former Red Bull or Mercedes driver as race steward is a bad idea too due to bias.

In the end, it isn’t perfect and I think that’s what Susie is saying, ultimately. The FIA had a team working with Charlie but never really built up a new team around Michael. The stewarding and consistency in the sporting regulations has been wavering. The past has seen the stewards penalizing an action based on the outcome and not the action itself.

In the end, there is room for the FIA to improve for sure. A few years ago I stated concern about Liberty Media’s Ross Brawn and the group he created to get heavily involved in the regulations of F1. This, traditionally, has been the role of the FIA and it felt that there was room for stepping on toes with the creation of this group and yet FIA president Jean Todt seemed fine with the idea. There are now rumors that this group is disbanding and Ross will be moving on.

Ultimately every single point in F1 matters. That is as true for Max as it is for Lewis. I respect Toto and Lewis’s decision to not attend the gala but I do raise a glass to the men and women at Mercedes who did an amazing job once again. Kudos to Red Bull and the men and women there that took the fight to an immovable object in the form of Mercedes.

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Peter

When you write: “ The FIA had a team working with Charlie but never really built up a new team around Michael. The stewarding and consistency in the sporting regulations has been wavering…” you are 100% right. As for Lewis not going, as someone who has worked with extreme PR events, I agree with that decision NOT because Hamilton would be disadvantaged but because the media present would seek to create a controversy/circus with him and Max and that would bring the sport and both driver’s into disrepute. The situation has to calm down and Hamilton would be a fuse igniting… Read more »

Peter

Absolutely right Wolf should have been a better man and shown up. Hamilton, Sir Lewis, would have been an easy media hit and I feel he was right to stay away. Wolf has no such excuse since he’s a blabbermouth at the best of times.