In the closing stages of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, FIA race director Michael Masi made several decisions that broke the Safety Car rules and basically handed Max Verstappen the world title.
For three days Mercedes was silent, and then on Thursday the team announced they have decided to withdraw the appeal. In a press conference held after the announcement, Toto Wolff explained what went on it that time.
“After the race, I called Jean Todt and [FIA secretary general] Peter Bayer and said that I didn’t agree with this decision,” the Austrian said in a press conference.
“Of course I knew that it was purely a personal emotion, because we had to sort out the legal remedies and whether we could protest at all, or against what. And we did that immediately in my office.
“We got all the engineers, lawyers, Ola [Kallenius, Daimler chairman], just all together and decided to file this protest.
“Ron Meadows and the team went to see the stewards twice, at the invitation of the stewards. And then we waited for the decision, which was negative.
“And then it was a matter of going back to the hotel and sulking, or thinking about what had happened. Or, on the other hand, to celebrate an eighth constructors’ title with the team.
“And that’s what I did – trying to push aside the frustration about the decision that cost the drivers’ world title, until the next day.”
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Wolff then explained why the final decision was made at the very end of the 96-hour deadline for appeal.
“We’ve spent all the last few days being in dialogue with the FIA, with Lewis and Ola and his colleagues to make the right decision.
“And we’ve vacillated over and over again in those days between, ‘We’re going to go through with this appeal’ and ‘We’re going to pull back despite all the anger and just try to make the sport better and use this moment to just make the decision-making more robust’.
“The final decision to withdraw the appeal was made on Wednesday evening.”
Wolff was then asked if that dialogue with the FIA included an admission of guilt by the governing body.
“I think it is very difficult in such a situation to compromise your legal position,” the Austrian explained.
“And I think for the FIA it wasn’t clear if we would go all the way with the appeal, and therefore you cannot expect any admission.
“I think they have taken the right step. The president has convinced the World Motor Sport Council to set this commission in place, to look at the incidents of the Abu Dhabi race, and to avoid any such situations going forward.
“All of us welcome that decision. I don’t think it was easy. The statement of the FIA, when you understand the nature of the governing body, is a strong and robust one.
“Obviously as a racer you would wish full admission, but that is not possible at that stage.
“I think we have taken a stop in the right direction. It is a modest step, considering the magnitude of the failures on Sunday night, but better a modest step than not.”
Mercedes’ announcement that the team would not appeal sent shockwaves through the fan community, which has campaigned for days for the FIA to admit to wrongdoing.
Toto says he can understand that the fans are not happy with Mercedes’ decision.
“I can understand the frustrations of many. And to be honest, I have the same.
“I am also in two minds, all the time, between my perspective and my judgment on the legal position, and my realism about the outcome of such proceedings.
“As I said before, there’s a difference between being right and obtaining justice.
“And I don’t think that at the moment, we are set up in terms of our governance to end up in a situation that would have given us remedy, that would have reinstalled the result that was taken away from Lewis before the last lap of the race.
“And that’s why heavy-hearted we have decided not to appeal because we wouldn’t have gotten the result back.
“Now I think we have the right tools in hand to make sure that the decision making going forward is better.
“And we will be holding the FIA and the decision makers accountable for making the sport more robust and the decision making more robust and more consistent,” concluded Mercedes’ team boss.