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Formula 1

Masi out of race director role in FIA’s new F1 ‘refereeing’ plan

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
3 min read

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Michael Masi will be replaced as the FIA Formula 1 race director for the 2022 season as part of a number of changes to be instigated following the governing body’s review into last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Masi has been the race director since the 2019 season, having assumed the role at short notice following the death of Charlie Whiting on the eve of the Australian Grand Prix.

But he will be replaced for 2022 following the controversial way the 2021 season ended, as Masi handled a late safety car period in a manner not prescribed by the regulations in order to set up a one-lap restart.

That changed the outcome of the race and the world championship as long-time race leader Lewis Hamilton was left directly vulnerable to Max Verstappen, who had been able to pit under the safety car for fresh tyres – and Verstappen overtook him on the final lap to win the grand prix and the title.

The outcry that followed prompted the FIA to acknowledge F1’s image was being tarnished and it instigated a review into what happened in Abu Dhabi.

One of its conclusions is to remove Masi from the position of race director.

He will be replaced by Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich, who will rotate the position between them during the season and be assisted by a permanent senior adviser in Herbie Blash, who was formerly Whiting’s deputy. Freitas and Wittich have most recently worked in the World Endurance Championship and DTM respectively.

Feb 17 : Masi out - but has the FIA done enough?

Masi will be offered a new position within the FIA.

The new race management structure will be implemented starting with the first pre-season test at Barcelona at the end of February.

In addition to replacing Masi, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has announced further changes to reinforce F1’s officiating in a presentation entitled ‘a new step forward in Formula 1 refereeing’.

A new virtual race control room will be created that has been likened to football’s video assistant referee, which will assist the race director in making decisions.

As expected, direct radio communications with the race director during the race will not be broadcast and team bosses will not be able to interfere in order to “protect the race director from any pressure and allow him to take decisions peacefully”.

“It will still be possible to ask questions to the race director, according to a well-defined and non-intrusive process,” the FIA says – likely to be that team managers can speak to an intermediate body in race control before liaising with the race director if necessary.

There will also be a reassessment of the procedures defining how cars unlap themselves behind the safety car.

Masi only allowed the five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves before the Abu Dhabi race restart and not the also lapped Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel and Mick Schumacher further back in the queue, having previously indicated that none of the lapped cars would be allowed through at all – which would have put a buffer between Hamilton and Verstappen.

Crucially, he also ignored the rule that states the safety car must come into the pits at the end of the following lap after that procedure. Had that been followed the race would have ended under the safety car.

“With this plan, FIA opens the way for a new step forward in Formula 1 refereeing,” said Ben Sulayem.

“Without the referees, there is no sport. Respect and support of the referees is in the essence of the FIA.

“That is why these structural changes are crucial in a context of strong development and the legitimate expectations of drivers, teams, manufacturers, organisers, and of course, the fans.”

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