It has emerged that the technical directive which caused uproar in the paddock this weekend was overseen by Toto Wolff’s former personal lawyer, Shaila-Ann Rao.
She moved to the FIA only last month, taking up her post following her departure from the world champion team.
The Warwick University-trained lawyer is chief of staff to recently elected president Mohammed ben Sulayem and was made interim secretary general for sport at the beginning of the month.
Toto Wolff’s former personal lawyer had a role in regulations being changed by the FIA
Her appointment has raised some eyebrows among Mercedes’ rivals, with Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto saying in Baku last week: ‘Certainly, it’s a concern. She is a great person. She’s got a lot of experience. She will certainly be capable of doing the job. It’s down to them to make sure there will be no conflicts of interest at all, to behave properly. It’s up to the president to ensure that.’
The FIA issued the technical directive last Thursday, seemingly answering Mercedes’ plea for a mid-season change to this year’s new regulations in order to combat their problems with a ‘porpoising’ — or bouncing — car. Wolff argues strongly that the jolting phenomenon is felt by all teams and presents a serious danger to the brains and backs of drivers.
A fierce row erupted at the team principals’ meeting on Saturday between Wolff on one side and Binotto and Red Bull’s Christian Horner mostly united on the other.
Mattia Binotto hopes Shaila-Ann Rao’s role does not cause a conflict of interest
Ferrari and Red Bull, the two teams who have best mastered the regulations, told Mercedes to get their own concept right rather than use, as they see it, safety concerns as a pretext to press for changes that could aid their performance.
One observer accused Wolff of losing ‘his s***’ during the debate. This is denied by others, who said the Austrian merely made his point with measured vigour. Later Wolff said: ‘This situation has clearly gone too far. Team principals trying to play political games is disingenuous. All of the cars, not just Mercedes, suffered in some way in Baku (last week).
‘It’s a fault in Formula One at the moment and it’s an issue that needs to be solved. Little manipulations in the background, Chinese whispers, it’s pitiful.’
As for Rao, she has worked as a lawyer in the UK, France and Switzerland for 30 years. She was FIA legal director from mid-2016 to the end of 2018 before spending three-and-a-half years at Mercedes as general counsel and then as special adviser to Wolff.
Christian Horner is on Binotto’s side in the debate that has erupted in recent days