Race Weekend Central

Formula 1 Race Director Michael Masi Reassigned

Earlier today, it was announced that the FIA would be making a number of changes to the officiating of Formula 1, including the reassignment of race director Michael Masi, moving him away from the series.

The changes come after the controversial ending to the 2021 Formula 1 championship in Abu Dhabi in December, in which Max Verstappen passed and defeated Lewis Hamilton in a controversial one-lap shootout that went against the series’ standard operating procedures. Key among them was the decision by Masi to only allow the lapped cars in between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves, instead of all of the lapped cars as the rulebook outlines.

The full statement, written and given by new FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem with the full support of all ten F1 teams, outlined four distinct changes coming to the series’ officiating beginning in 2022.

First, a Virtual Race Control Room, or VRCR, will be implemented at the FIA’s headquarters in order to assist with applying the sporting regulations. Although the statement specifically compares it to the Virtual Assistance Referee in soccer, the reality is that the vast majority of sports have a similar system in place. The NFL, for instance, has a hub in its New York headquarters that can and will call for further review of close plays in games.

The second point states that any communication between the teams and the race director will not be broadcasted, and the ability to communicate with the race director will be less direct. Anybody who watched a race last year will tell you that this was a mess, with Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner ringing up the director at will to complain about anything and everything.

Third on the docket was the announcement that lapped car procedures behind the safety car would be revised before the start of the season next month.

Finally, there will now be two people in the role of race director instead of just one. Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas have been named alternative race directors. Wittich has overseen WEC the last several years, while Freitas has been director of the DTM series out in Germany. The pair will be assisted by new senior advisor Michael “Herbie” Blash, the former deputy race director in F1 for 21 seasons from 1996 to 2016.

Overall, these rule changes appear very positive and a response to last yearʻs troubled finale. It was clear to just about everybody following the last season that there was a serious need for reform with F1’s officiating, with the official’s radio turning into more of a reality show than Drive To Survive. The fact is that Masi had far too much on his plate in his role, between coordinating and overseeing safety crew clean-ups, directing the pace car, and having Woff and Horner, and others, yelling in his ear at any given moment.

As far as Masi himself, the writing has been on the wall for quite a while. I don’t know if Mercedes and Hamilton knew Masi wasn’t returning, but clearly, they thought that was the case with Hamilton’s recent return to social media and signals that indicate the seven-time champion would be returning to F1 this season. With Mercedes deciding against further legal action a while ago, Hamilton’s decision to retire or race was really their best leverage over the FIA as far as forcing the sanctioning body to make significant changes over the off-season.

The finish of the race was always going to be controversial, however, due to the late caution and the question of whether to restart the race. If the race had not been restarted, the shoe probably would have been on the other foot with Red Bull and Verstappen complaining about the result–Red Bull already had the stage set for that outcome anyway. If the lapped cars were all waved around, there would have still been some controversy due to Hamilton being unable to pit for fresh tires as Verstappen did once the full course caution came out.

My proposal to that would be for an automatic red flag for the first full-course caution in the final 10% of a race or if there are two laps to go in the race. This would even out strategy for all teams and ensure the viewers a fair, exciting finish while not putting pressure on the safety crew to rush track repairs/clean-up. But the announcement today is a great step in the right direction for the health and preservation of the sporting aspects of the series..

About the author

michaelfinley010

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021, and also formerly covered the SRX series from 2021-2023. He now covers the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and road course events in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via