When the FIA announced that the role of Secretary General for Sport would be temporarily taken on by Shaila-Ann Rao, former special advisor to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, the disappointment of other teams hasn’t been slow to be felt.
Other contenders fear that Rao’s previous working experience could result into a greater influence from the German car manufacturer in matters.
Ferrari’s TP Mattia Binotto was among the early complainers. At the Azerbaijan Grand Prix that he had some ‘concerns’ over the new appointment.
In Montreal in the wake of the controversial technical directive issued by F1’s governing body aimed at eliminating porpoising and helping Mercedes i.e., the team who has been primarily affected by it; concerns turned into serious worries.
The conjecture is that former Mercedes advisor played a central role in accelerating the approval of new rules, and questions arose about how Mercedes was able to respond so quickly and add a second floor support stay to its car so soon after the TD came out.
Speaking after the Canadian GP, when the new technical directive was challenged on legal grounds, because teams claimed the FIA had not followed the correct procedure, Binotto stated he was hoping the FIA could soon clear the polemics over Rao’s role.
“That's a question that I've been asked as well in Baku in the press conference, and I can only repeat what I said at the time: It is a concern, no doubt,” he said.
“But I have as well the full trust in the FIA that they will prove that obviously she's a professional, she's a lawyer, and she's got integrity.
“I have confidence for the future that they will prove that my concern is not a concern.”
The Italian team boss didn’t intend to fuel any conspiracy theories that Rao had informed Mercedes before the directive came out, but pointed out Ferrari would not have been able to react as quickly as the rival team did.
“Toto said that they did it overnight,” he said. “What I can say is that Ferrari would not be capable of doing it. And no doubt I'm surprised that a team is so strong in doing that overnight. We can maybe only trust what he's saying...”
Ferrari is certainly not the only team frowning upon how quickly Mercedes managed to get a second stay on its car, amid suspicions it may have had some advance notice of what was going on.
Helmut Marko, Red Bull motorsport advisor, stated his team was surprised by Mercedes ran with the second stay just one day after being advised it was okay
“We were very surprised to see that second stay on the floor,” Marko commented during an interview with Motorsport.com.
“It was clear that after the technical directive came out, there was not enough time to make such a part.”
Asked if he believed Mercedes had some insider knowledge of what the FIA was doing, Marko said “Otherwise you can’t explain what has happened”.
However, Red Bull preferred to avoid being dragged into the debate over Rao’s appointment. Team Principal Christian Horner liquidated the issue with a: “I'd prefer not to comment on that.”
If Ferrari and Red Bull appear united in the battle against Mercedes, not all teams seemed that worried. Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer believes that Rao’s experience at Mercedes was not necessarily a bad thing.
“She was originally at the FIA, so I think the nice thing is that she's got team experience as well now,” he said.
“That's always good if you have that double experience.
“Yeah, I'm not concerned. I think she's a lawyer. I think she takes an oath to be honest and trustworthy. So I think there's no issue."