A recent announcement by motorsport’s governing body that Shaila-Ann Rao, a former special adviser to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, would temporarily take over as General Secretary for Sport, caused some unrest among the teams.
The fear was that his previous experience working for the Mercedes team could lead to greater influence from the German carmaker in matters.
Binotto was one of the early skeptics about the situation, saying at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix that he had some “concerns” about Rao’s appointment.
But concerns were raised at the Canadian GP in the wake of the controversial technical directive issued by the FIA with the aim of getting rid of porpoises and helping the Mercedes team.
There were suspicions that Rao had played a key role in speeding up the move, with questions being raised as to how Mercedes was able to respond so quickly and add a second-floor support bracket to its car so soon after the TD came out.
Speaking after a weekend in which the TD was challenged on legal grounds, with teams claiming the FIA had not followed the correct procedure, Binotto said he hoped the governing body could address its anxiety over Rao’s influence.
“That is a question that I was also asked in Baku at the press conference, and I can only repeat what I said at the time: it is a concern, for sure,” he said.
“But I also have full confidence in the FIA that they will prove that obviously she is a professional, she is a lawyer and she has integrity.
“I am confident for the future that they will show that my concern is not a concern.”
Binotto did not want to fuel any conspiracy theory that Rao had tipped off Mercedes about the second stay before the TD came out, but pointed out that Ferrari would not have been able to react as quickly as its rival did.
“Toto said they did it overnight,” he said.
“What I can say is that Ferrari would not be able to do it. And I’m certainly surprised that a team is so strong in doing that overnight. Maybe we can only trust what he’s saying…”
Helmut Marko: “We were very surprised to see that the second one stayed on the court. It was clear that after the technical directive came out, there was not enough time to do that part.
Photo by: Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Images
Ferrari is not the only team to question how quickly Mercedes was able to get a second stay on its car, amid suspicions it may have been given advance notice of what was happening.
Red Bull motorsports adviser Helmut Marko said his team was surprised Mercedes ran the second stay only a day after being told it was okay.
“We were very surprised to see the second guy stay on the pitch,” Marko told Motorsport.com.
“It was clear that after the technical directive came out, there was not enough time to do that part.”
Asked if he thought Mercedes had any early knowledge of what the FIA was doing, Marko said: “Otherwise you can’t explain what happened.
However, Red Bull did not want to be drawn into the controversy over Rao’s appointment.
Asked if the team had any concerns about the matter, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said: “I would prefer not to comment on that.
However, not all teams were so concerned about Rao’s position, and Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer thought his experience at Mercedes was not necessarily a bad thing.
“He was originally in the FIA, so I think the good thing is that now he has experience in the team as well,” he said. “That’s always good if you have that double experience.
“Yeah, I’m not worried. I think she is a lawyer. I think she takes an oath to be honest and trustworthy. So I think there is no problem.”
Additional reporting by Ronald Vording and Adam Cooper