FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem says the sport’s governing body replaced Michael Masi as race director due to the pressure he was under in the role.
Masi was replaced as a result of his handling of last year’s championship-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The FIA published the findings of its report into the controversial race yesterday.
It stated Masi did not follow its rules correctly in two respects when he restarted the race on the final lap: By bringing the Safety Car in too early and by not letting all lapped cars unlap themselves. As a result, Max Verstappen was handed an opportunity to overtake Lewis Hamilton to win the race, and the world championship.
The report said Masi was under considerable pressure at the time, including from the team principals representing the two drivers. The FIA decided “to take the pressure and the stress from him because really he went through a lot,” said Ben Sulayem.
“We are grateful for the three years that he invested with us and he put his time in. But now we are negotiating with him, of course, to stay in the FIA, he is an important figure to us. So our people are negotiating other, I would say, not a job, but another place for him within the FIA.”
As the 2022 F1 calendar has expanded to 23 rounds this year, Ben Sulayem said the demands of the growing schedule made it necessary to divide the race director role between two people. Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas will share the role, while Herbie Blash will act as an advisor.
“A race control director cannot be just one director,” said Ben Sulayem. “That’s the reason we brought some of our staff back like Herbie, for example, to support the race director.
“On top of that, we have to do rotations also, not just one. Because if you talk about 23 races, human fatigue is there, you’re talking about travels, so that cannot be so. This is also a solution.”
From this weekend the race direction team will also be supported by the FIA’s new Remote Operations Centre, which has been likened to the Video Assistant Referee used in football. Ben Sulayem said he was behind this “very important” change to the sport’s officiating procedures.
“The idea came to me in January when I made a visit to some of the Formula 1 teams and we went to one of the launches,” he explained. “I said, ‘what’s that, It looks like a theatre?. And they said, this is actually a race control, but virtual. I said, ‘why don’t we have one?’
“So now we invested in it and it’s actually working since yesterday. So we didn’t promise, we are delivering.
“So they will have another race control director. They will have also officials. They will have also from the legal department. Then they will support it. The virtual race control will not be running the race. The race will be run from the country itself.”
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