A recent announcement by motor racing’s governing body that Shaila-Ann Rao, a former special advisor to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, was temporarily taking over as Secretary General for Sport, prompted some unease among teams.
The fear was that her previous background working for the Mercedes team could lead to a greater influence from the German car manufacturer in matters.
Binotto was one of the early skeptics about the situation, saying at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix that he had some ‘concerns’ over Rao’s appointment.
But the worries stepped up a notch at the Canadian GP in the wake of the controversial technical directive issued by the FIA aimed at getting rid of porpoising and helping the Mercedes team.
There were suspicions that Rao had played a key role in fast-tracking the move, and questions were asked 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 a weekend where the TD was challenged on legal grounds, because teams claimed the FIA had not followed the correct procedure, Binotto said he hoped the governing body could address his anxiety about Rao’s influence.
“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.”
Binotto did not want to fuel any conspiracy theories that Rao had tipped off Mercedes about the second stay before the TD came out, but pointed out Ferrari would not have been able to react as quickly as its rival 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…”
Helmut Marko: “We were very surprised to see that second stay on the floor. It was clear that after the technical directive came out, there was not enough time to make such a part.”
Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images
Ferrari is not the only team that has questioned how quickly Mercedes was able to get a second stay on its car, amid suspicions it may have had some advance notice of what was going on.
Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko said his squad was taken back that 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 told 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 early knowledge of what the FIA was doing, Marko said “Otherwise you can’t explain what has happened.”
Red Bull did not want to get dragged into the controversy over Rao’s appointment though.
When asked if the team had concerns about the matter, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said: “I’d prefer not to comment on that.”
Not all teams were so worried about Rao’s position though, with Alpine chief Otmar Szafnauer thinking that his 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.”
Additional reporting by Ronald Vording and Adam Cooper