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Horner and Wolff say they have moved on from testy F1 finale

February 23, 2022 GMT
FILE - Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff attends the 2019 FIA Champions' Press Conference in Paris, on Dec. 6, 2019. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is “optimistic” that new steps put in place to improve Formula One race management will prove successful, though he remains unhappy about how Lewis Hamilton lost the title last season. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
FILE - Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff attends the 2019 FIA Champions' Press Conference in Paris, on Dec. 6, 2019. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is “optimistic” that new steps put in place to improve Formula One race management will prove successful, though he remains unhappy about how Lewis Hamilton lost the title last season. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
FILE - Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff attends the 2019 FIA Champions' Press Conference in Paris, on Dec. 6, 2019. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is “optimistic” that new steps put in place to improve Formula One race management will prove successful, though he remains unhappy about how Lewis Hamilton lost the title last season. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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FILE - Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff attends the 2019 FIA Champions' Press Conference in Paris, on Dec. 6, 2019. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is “optimistic” that new steps put in place to improve Formula One race management will prove successful, though he remains unhappy about how Lewis Hamilton lost the title last season. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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FILE - Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff attends the 2019 FIA Champions' Press Conference in Paris, on Dec. 6, 2019. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is “optimistic” that new steps put in place to improve Formula One race management will prove successful, though he remains unhappy about how Lewis Hamilton lost the title last season. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Toto Wolff and Christian Horner say they’ve moved on from the acrimony that marked the Formula One title race last season, when Red Bull’s Max Verstappen dethroned Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton.

The team principals sat side by side Wednesday on the first day of preseason testing in Spain in a far more congenial atmosphere compared to the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Tensions between them got so bad in 2021 that they traded barbs in the weeks before Abu Dhabi’s last-lap mayhem.

“We share a difference of opinion over Abu Dhabi, but that’s done and dusted,” Red Bull boss Horner said. “I think what you did see last year was a fantastic competition. That’s been a key part of Formula One’s revival in terms of popularity. We hope there’s going to be an equally exciting year ... ideally a little less exciting at times.”

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Wolff agrees with Horner that enough is enough.

“We need to move on. There’s been so much talk about Abu Dhabi that it came to a point that it is really damaging (for F1),” the Mercedes leader said. “We’ve closed the chapter.”

The 2021 title hinged on a key decision from then-race director Michael Masi, who has since been removed, prompting confusion and vitriol in some quarters.

Hamilton led comfortably until a crash by Nicholas Latifi brought out the safety car with five laps remaining. Verstappen stopped under yellow for a fresh set of tires, and Masi flipped his decision and let the drivers separating Verstappen from Hamilton pass the safety car under yellow.

Verstappen then zoomed past Hamilton on fresh tires. Mercedes lost both protests before eventually withdrawing an appeal that could have dragged into this season.

“It got fierce at times and brutal,” Wolff said. “There’s the fighting on track and the fighting off track.”

Following the fallout, governing body FIA put a new race-day structure in place, including a soccer-style Virtual Race Control Room.

“I think we need professionalism in the stewards’ room,” Wolff said. “(What) we talked about last year was the topic of inconsistency. There shouldn’t be room to interpret the rules.”

Hamilton claimed earlier Wednesday that F1 needs “non-biased stewards” going forward, saying favorable relationships had been built up.

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“We need to make sure we get non-biased stewards, too. (Some) race drivers are very, very good friends with certain individuals,” Hamilton said, without naming anyone. “Some travel with certain individuals and tend to take a more keen liking to some of them.”

Wolff and Horner disputed this.

“I don’t think there is a conscious bias,” Wolff said. ”(But) there needs to be a standard, this is what we deserve and what everybody expects.”

Horner agreed.

“I don’t think there’s an intended bias. I’m not aware of any stewards traveling with drivers to races,” he said. “We’ve all been on the receiving end of stewards’ decisions that we’ve been unhappy about.”

Horner wants greater clarity on what’s acceptable when a driver goes off track limits, with differing versions in 2021.

“A lot of the issues are to do with the regulations themselves, because you’ve got very complicated regulations that leave room for interpretation. Circuit limits is an an obvious one. In any other sport, being over a white line you’re out,” Horner said. “You have a situation where (on) some corners it’s OK, some corners it isn’t. I think for the fans, even for the teams and the drivers, it’s confusing.”

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