Wolff reacts to huge cheers as Hamilton crashed out

Jon Wilde
Toto Wolff stands on a balcony. Monaco May 2022.

Mercedes team principal and CEO Toto Wolff watches on from a balcony. Monaco May 2022.

Toto Wolff thinks Formula 1 fans need to be educated after Lewis Hamilton was cheered when crashing out of Austrian Grand Prix qualifying.

Looking like he could challenge for pole position for the season’s second sprint, Hamilton found his Mercedes making a heavy side-on impact with the barrier as he tried to complete a first flying lap of Q3.

As he did so, the crowd at the Red Bull Ring, many of whom are supporting Hamilton’s 2021 World Championship rival Max Verstappen and dressed in orange, vented approval in the form of a big cheer.

It represented a role reversal from last weekend at Silverstone where Hamilton was the home hero for the British Grand Prix while Verstappen was cast in the role of pantomime villain by the fans.

However, a tribal type of audience is not the ideal image for Formula 1 – and Wolff, team principal of the Mercedes team, thinks more should be done to encourage spectators to treat all drivers fairly and respectfully.

Asked about the cheers for Hamilton’s accident, Wolff, speaking to Sky F1, said: “I didn’t hear that or see that, what happened? I think we just need to speak more to the fans that are cheering when a car is in the wall, or booing for a driver that gives an interview.

“It’s not what we would do with our competitors and enemies, even though you can think we would have some animosity out there, so nobody should actually do it. We need collectively, with F1, with you guys, to educate people.”

Unusually, Hamilton, who will start P9 for the sprint – five places behind his team-mate George Russell, who followed him by also spinning out of Q3 – does not have his trusty race engineer Pete Bonnington presiding over his weekend.

Bonnington is back in England, so Marcus Dudley – usually the seven-time former World Champion’s performance engineer – and Dom Riefstahl are working closely with Hamilton.

“Bonno is not here and that’s always bad, it’s bad for us as a team because he’s an integral part and since 10 years he’s standing (to the) right to me and I keep watching him,” explained Wolff.

“But he’s at home, he’s back connected to the intercom, so we are speaking to him all the time and Marcus and Dom will do an okay job.”

Another cheer from the crowd erupted when Verstappen snatched pole position for the sprint from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, with the Dutchman aiming to extend his 34-point World Championship lead when eight points are up for grabs for Saturday’s winner.