The FIA has removed Michael Masi from the position of director of the Formula 1 race after his role in the controversial final of last season’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which decided the championship. The governing body of the sport is to replace Masi with two new staff, Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich, and has introduced a number of new structures, including a stand-alone race control unit that functions similarly to the VAR in football.
The FIA, however, did not release a report of its investigation into what happened in Abu Dhabi and Masi’s level of guilt for making the decisions that decided the World Cup in favor of Max Verstappen, ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
The newly appointed president of the FIA, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, announced on Thursday that Masi will not be removed from the governing body of this sport, but he offered another seat. The Australian took over as race director after the death of Charlie Whiting in 2019. He was loved and respected in the paddock, but events have obviously taken their toll; at an F1 commission meeting on Monday, observers described him as a shadow of his former self.
In his new role, he will alternate between the Portuguese Freitas, who is a widely respected race director of the World Endurance Championship, and Wittich, the race director of DTM, the German Touring Car Championship. The German was already due to join Masi as an assistant this year. The division of roles raises questions about the likely consistency of decision-making.
The return of Herbie Blash will help them. Blash, 73, has been involved in the sport since the late 1960s and has been an assistant to Whiting for more than 20 years. With vast experience and great respect in the paddock, he will take on the role of permanent advisor that will greatly alleviate teams ’fear of the new system.
Masi’s intervention in Abu Dhabi, improvising with the rules around the safety car and the way cars can unfold themselves, proved decisive in the title fight between Hamilton and Verstappen. In the end, this gave Red Bull Verstappen, on fresh tires, a chance to attack and pass Hamilton in the final lap, thus securing a championship in the process.
The masses and the FIA were immediately subjected to harsh criticism as it was resolved. Hamilton believed the race had been rigged, and his Mercedes team director, Toto Wolff, warned that the British driver could withdraw from F1 if he was not satisfied with the conclusions of the FIA investigation. It is believed that his further participation in F1 depended on the FIA establishing structures so that events could not be repeated. However, it is clear that he will race now because he will attend the presentation of the Mercedes car on Friday.
After the event, anger and a sense that the integrity of the sport has been severely compromised. The FIA described much of the controversy as a “misunderstanding” and said it hoped the investigation, which began last December, would clarify the situation.
Ben Sulayem believed the changes were needed to ensure public confidence in the proper application of the rules and that they had the unanimous support of F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, and the team director.
“With this plan, the FIA is paving the way for a new step forward in the Formula 1 trial,” he said. “There is no sport without judges. The respect and support of the judges is essentially the FIA. That is why these structural changes are crucial in the context of strong development and legitimate expectations of drivers, teams, manufacturers, organizers and, of course, fans. ”
In addition to the new staff, three major organizational changes have been confirmed. The FIA will establish virtual race control, away from the track, to use technology to help the race director. It will work in real time and provide relevant track information as needed, with the intent of allowing the race director to focus on current track-related issues such as safety, while the VAR team investigates rule violations.
After Massi was subjected to intense pressure by direct communication from both Red Bull and Mercedes during key final rounds, this approach will be discontinued, replaced by an “unobtrusive” procedure if teams want to ask questions. Finally, the dismantling procedures need to be reviewed and evaluated with possible changes before the start of this season.
Mercedes did not comment on the decisions, but at the presentation of the new Ferrari, Charles Leclerc from the Italian team expressed his condolences to Masi. “I have a lot of respect for Michael for what he did, he had a hard job, especially in Abu Dhabi,” the driver said. “Whatever happens will always be controversial. But the FIA has made a decision, there is a lot more information and I fully believe that it is the right decision. “