18 February 2022

Toto Wolff was certain Lewis Hamilton would return to fight for title again

18 February 2022

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has said he was never worried that Lewis Hamilton would quit Formula One.

Hamilton will speak publicly for the first time since the contentious Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – and a day after Michael Masi was dropped as race director – when Mercedes launches its new car at Silverstone on Friday.

Hamilton said the race at Yas Marina on December 12 was “manipulated” after Masi seemed to bend the rules to allow the British driver’s rival Max Verstappen the chance to win the title following a late safety car.

The 37-year-old was disillusioned following the debacle in the desert and, at one stage, it was unclear if he would return to the grid.

But speaking to BBC Radio 4, Wolff said: “No, I was never worried – although you have to respect the driver is disillusioned after such an event.

“But we have a strong team and great support so I knew he was going to come back.

“We all were disillusioned because the stopwatch never lies and Lewis was clearly the best guy on track in Abu Dhabi, dominating the race, and then it is taken away by a single individual against all the rules so to digest that is very difficult.

“Like all of us, there was an initial shock. We have never seen anything like that so he had to walk away, and free his mind and think about something else, and start to work on those events and find a solution.”

Masi, who is set to be offered a new position within the FIA, will be replaced by Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich.

Max Verstappen won his first Formula One title in controversial circumstances (PA Wire) (PA Wire)

The duo are set to alternate the role and they will be supported by former race director Charlie Whiting’s deputy, 73-year-old Herbie Blash in a total restructure of race control.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton is set for his 16th campaign. Asked if the record-breaking Briton still has the same enthusiasm, Wolff replied: “Yes. absolutely. He is in love with the sport and we are ready to hunt for victories and hopefully the world championship. He is in the right mindset.

“It was not about the race director, or anybody else, but about Lewis making peace with how the race ended.

“Lewis is all about justice and sporting fairness and that wasn’t the case [in Abu Dhabi]. He needed time to reflect, he comes back strong and is in good spirits.

“The most important thing is that we move on. There has been so much discussion about Abu Dhabi – and for the right reasons because how the Grand Prix ended is not how a Formula One world championship should end – but the FIA has put in a new structure and we are happy about that.”

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