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Motor racing-Former advisor to Mercedes team boss takes top F1 job at FIA

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LONDON (Reuters) - Shaila-Ann Rao, who was previously a special advisor to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, took over as interim head of Formula One at the governing FIA on Wednesday in place of departed Peter Bayer.

The Paris-based FIA, which voted in Emirati Mohammed Ben Sulayem as president last December to succeed departing Frenchman Jean Todt, thanked Bayer in a statement for his contribution.

Austrian Bayer had been the FIA's F1 executive director since last year and was also the secretary-general for motorsport.

He led the FIA's investigation into last year's controversial season-ending race in Abu Dhabi.

That triggered the departure of race director Michael Masi, whose handling of a late safety car procedure effectively gave the title to Red Bull's Max Verstappen and denied Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton a record eighth title.

There was no explanation for Bayer's departure and no indication that Rao's return to the FIA was in any way connected with last season's events.

Rao served as the FIA's legal director from mid-2016 to the end of 2018, when she moved to the Mercedes F1 team as general counsel and then special advisor to Wolff.

Australian Masi was replaced as race director in February by Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, who have alternated in the role.

Both have drawn some criticism, the first for how a ban on drivers' wearing jewellery in the cockpit was enforced and the second for delaying last Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix for more than an hour due to rain.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)

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