Mercedes boss Toto Wolff will sit down with the new ruler of Formula One on Friday to discuss the farcical conclusion to last season in a meeting that will go a long way to deciding Lewis Hamilton’s future.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, a 61-year-old rally driver from Dubai, was voted president of the governing FIA in December, and at the top of his in-tray is the debacle in Abu Dhabi.
Hamilton was denied a hard-earned victory, and a record eighth championship, when the race was restarted after a safety-car phase and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen exploited the new tyres he was on — a strategic choice — to power to victory on the final lap.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff (left) will speak to new F1 ruler Mohammed Ben Sulayem (right) to discuss the farcical conclusion to last season
Lewis Hamilton (left) was denied the F1 title when Max Verstappen pipped him to the line in the crucial Abu Dhabi race after a contentious call by F1 race director Michael Masi
Since then Hamilton, 37, has declined to commit to seeing out the remainder of his two-year contract with Mercedes.
Mercedes withdrew their legal action against the FIA, believing they have no chance of winning an appeal on the basis it would require the FIA to overturn their own stewards at further great damage to the sport, but demanded the thorough investigation that is currently being carried out to repair F1’s integrity.
For now, race director Michael Masi, 42, remains in post. His position will be a key item when Wolff meets Ben Sulayem.
Sources indicate Masi’s sacking is a key requirement for Mercedes, though they deny that his departure is a quid pro quo to Hamilton staying on. They seek broader reform.
Mercedes will demand that Masi (above) is sacking over the lapped cars call in Abu Dhabi
Mercedes star Hamilton is likely to carry on but the outcome of this new meeting will be crucial
A source told Sportsmail: ‘The Abu Dhabi matter is the first issue on the new president’s agenda. He wants to come up with a response. The deadline is the World Motor Sport Council meeting on February 3 — but there may be news before then, such is the urgency of this.’
The FIA seems torn on Masi’s fate. It is expected his head will roll, but one of Ben Sulayem’s chief supporters, former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, whose Brazilian wife Fabiana is the first woman to be elected vice-president for sport in South America, told Sportsmail: ‘I see no reason whatsoever why Michael should not continue in his job.
‘He did what he thought what was best. You can say I would do this or that or the other. But it would have been awful if the final race had ended under a safety car. Michael would have got in just as much trouble. He is a good man and the FIA should stick by him.’
It seems likely that Hamilton will race on. He will receive at least £30million a year and he clearly has unfinished business. Tellingly, Mercedes have not drawn up a serious contingency list of replacements.