Lewis Hamilton believes Formula One’s stewards are biased and has demanded action is taken ahead of the new season.
The 37-year-old British driver was back on track, two months and 11 days after he was denied a record-breaking eighth world championship, for the first day of winter testing at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya.
Since the deeply controversial Abu Dhabi finale, the FIA has acted by firing Australian Michael Masi – the man whose rule-bending allowed Max Verstappen the chance to take the title following a late safety car – in a revamp of race control.
But Hamilton now says the sport’s governing body must turn its attention to the stewards’ room.
“We need to make sure we have non-biased stewards,” said Hamilton.
“Some of the former race drivers, who are now stewards, are very good friends with certain individuals, some travel with certain individuals, and tend to take more of a keen liking to them.
“So people who have no bias, are going to be super-central when it comes to making decisions.”
However, in a rare moment of unity, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and his Red Bull rival Christian Horner refuted Hamilton’s suggestion.
“I don’t think it is a conscious bias,” said Wolff. “The stewards are intelligent people.
“But there needs to be a standard. This is what we deserve and this is what we expect.
“The most important topic is inconsistency and there shouldn’t be a lot of room to interpret the rules. I have faith in (FIA president) Mohammed (Ben Suleyman) that going forward we will optimise the new structure.”
Horner said: “I am not aware of any stewards travelling with drivers to races, and I certainly don’t think there was bias from any stewards in the last seasons.”
A spokesperson for the sport’s governing body said: “The FIA is proud of its global stewarding pathway that connects and develops the most talented stewards from across motor sport.
“This has resulted in a strong, independent and experienced group of officials who carry out their work with impartiality and the utmost professionalism.”
The opening day passed off without major incident for the grid’s major players, with British driver Lando Norris fastest of all for McLaren, 0.6sec faster than Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
George Russell was fourth on his first day for Mercedes, two-tenths quicker than teammate Hamilton.
Mileage, rather than outright pace, is the key to testing and world champion Verstappen, ninth overall, completed 147 laps – more than any other driver.
The test in Barcelona concludes on Friday ahead of three further days of running in Bahrain before the opening round in the Gulf Kingdom on March 20.