Mercedes has dropped its appeal, but it’s not the end


After the controversies of Abu Dhabi and the withdrawal of the appeal, Chris Medland explains why Mercedes still expects action by the FIA


Mercedes has withdrawn its appeal but the debate and controversy won't go away soon

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

Mercedes dropping its appeal against the result of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – based on the handling of the late safety car – cements Max Verstappen as the drivers’ champion for 2022. And that’s exactly how it should be.

But Toto Wolff is not letting it go, and nor should he.

For all the spats between Mercedes and Red Bull fans, it is very important to separate two things. The complaints and dissent have never had anything to do with Red Bull. Verstappen and his team did absolutely nothing wrong, and were not being targeted in any way with the appeal when it was being considered.

In fact, that’s one of the reasons it has been dropped.

Mercedes’ ire is with the FIA, and specifically race director Michael Masi, over the unsporting handling of the end of the race. Parts of rules were applied simply to ensure a green flag finish with the two drivers fighting each other directly on track. It dismissed everyone else in the race and everything that had gone before, and that wasn’t as a result of bad luck – which Mercedes could stomach – but of one man’s decision-making that didn’t tally with what the regulations say.

Was Masi under pressure to find a solution from above? We don’t know – we’ll hopefully find that out over time – but as Wolff faced the media on Thursday for the first time since the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi, it is clear that the Mercedes team principal sees him as target number one.

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“I’m not interested to having a conversation with Michael Masi,” Wolff said. “What he has… the decisions that have been taken in the last four minutes of the race have dropped Lewis Hamilton of a deserved world championship. His driving in the last four races particularly was faultless. He had a commanding lead on Sunday in Abu Dhabi from the get go. He won the start and he never gave the lead away again. And robbing him in the last lap of the racing, is unacceptable.

“That’s why from a personal standpoint, from a professional standpoint, I cannot… my values, my sense of integrity, just isn’t compatible to the decisions that have been made on Sunday, and it is up to the FIA to decide going forward how these decisions, how these situations, can be avoided.

“I would have been totally OK with Max and Red Bull winning the championship on Sunday, and this situation has nothing to do with Max, he is a worthy champion, his driving is exceptional, and Red Bull are fierce competitors, and I have the greatest respect of the people working there. This has nothing to do with them.

“But I would love to sit here and have avoided all these discussions and the damage that has been done to the sport by unjust, unsporting, unfair decision-making on Sunday. The FIA needs to decide how they’re going forward. We had a good dialogue with the FIA over the last few days, [with] the commission in place I have trust and faith that we will formulate together with other teams the right decisions and actions to avoid such a scenario in the future.”

“We believe we had a very strong case and if you look at it from a legal side it is almost guaranteed we would have won.”

Wolff highlighted the Eifel Grand Prix last year – when Masi explained a long safety car period because he needed to allow all cars to un-lap themselves and complete another lap as per the regulations – as further proof the rules weren’t followed, which would make it all the more confusing why an appeal wasn’t pursued.

There was more to Wolff’s anger today than just aimed at Masi, though. It hasn’t died down at all, if anything it has been increased the further into the appeal process Mercedes has gone. Because as the protests failed on Sunday night, they showed the wider issue of each next step still being overseen by some aspect of the FIA.

“We believe we had a very strong case and if you look at it from a legal side if it would have been judged in a regular court it is almost guaranteed we would have won. But the problem with the ICA [International Court of Appeal] is the way it is structured. The FIA can’t really mark their own homework. And there is a difference between being right and obtaining justice.

“So there is a lesson to be learned. How can we make sure that going forward, in situations like that, the right decisions are being taken, verdict from stewards respond to the regulations, and judgment in the courts whether it is the ICA or CAS [Court of Arbitration for Sport], which is not currently part of the legislations, can be judged in a way that is fair and neutral to every participant.”

The longer he spoke, the more you felt Wolff believes he’s in an impossible situation. He doesn’t want Max Verstappen stripped of his title now – he fully deserves to be champion – and isn’t upset at anything Red Bull did. So the appeal targeting the race result seems the wrong way to go, but then what is the right way to go when you believe race direction has unfairly cost you a title?


The Mercedes appeal threatened to hold up the FIA Prize Giving Gala and awarding of the World Championship trophy to Verstappen

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

“As you can imagine, not only for [Hamilton] but also for us as a team, it was terrible, to be confronted with a decision that decided the outcome of the world championship. But neither him nor us, want to win a championship in the courtroom.

“But on the other side we were deeply wronged on Sunday, and it wasn’t just a case of a bad call, it was freestyle reading of the rules and it left Lewis like a sitting duck. So it was tremendously hard for him and us as a team to withdraw the appeal because we were wronged. And we deeply believe that in Formula 1, the pinnacle of motor racing, one of the most important sports in the world justice is being done.

“My soul and my heart cries with every bone that this should have been judged in the right way, and the legal situation would have given us right, but as I said before, there is a difference between being right and obtaining justice.”

“I expect the commission to not only come up with words but with actions”

From the outside, a detailed analysis, once again overseen by the FIA, feels like a recipe for more controversy. While Wolff insist the statement from the WMSC on Wednesday “is a strong and robust one” given how it suggests there was some wrongdoing, he made clear his personal stance by stating he and Hamilton would not attend the FIA Prize Giving Gala – as demanded by the regulations – and even cranked up the pressure by describing both the seven-time world champion and himself as “disillusioned” with the sport right now.

By even dropping the slightest hint that a major car manufacturer and the most successful driver in the sport’s history could consider walking away from F1 over the fiasco puts added pressure on the FIA to do more than promise not to let a repeat happen again when its analysis starts.

“I expect the commission to not only come up with words but with actions, and we will hold them accountable for actions, as we cannot continue in a sport that is meant to be sport followed by entertainment and not the other way around.

“[Nor] that we are held ransom by ad hoc decisions in any field – be it technical or sporting – therefore there need to be clear measures in place before the start of the season so every driver, every team, and the fans, understand what’s on and what is not on.”

The appeal is not the way that Mercedes wants to see repercussions for what happened, but there’s no drop in desire to see some fallout. Something – or somebody – somewhere, has got to give.