17 February 2022

Michael Masi dropped as F1 race director after controversial season finale

17 February 2022

Michael Masi, the man accused of robbing Lewis Hamilton of an eighth world championship, has been dropped as Formula One race director.

The news was confirmed by FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem two months and five days after last campaign’s contentious season finale in Abu Dhabi.

Hamilton said the race was “manipulated” after Australian Masi seemed to bend the rules to allow the British driver’s rival Max Verstappen the chance to win the title following a late safety car.

Masi, offered a new position within the FIA, will be replaced by Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich in a total restructure of race control.

Ben Sulayem, elected as president just days after the debacle in the desert, also revealed the sport will use a Video Assistant Referee, similar to the one seen in football, and said communication between the pit wall and the race director will no longer be aired live on television.

“I would like to inform you that a new race management team will be put in place starting in Barcelona for the test session,” he said.

“Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas will act alternatively as race director, assisted by Herbie Blash as permanent senior advisor.

“Michael Masi, who accomplished a very challenging job for three years as Formula 1 race director following Charlie Whiting, will be offered a new position within the FIA.”

Max Verstappen won the F1 title last season (PA) (PA Wire)

In the final stages of the race, Masi ordered only the lapped cars between Hamilton and second-placed Verstappen through, providing the Dutchman, on fresh tyres, a shot at passing Hamilton – who was on old rubber.

Mercedes lodged and then dropped their appeal against the result of the Abu Dhabi race in a quid pro quo agreement that Masi would be removed by the FIA – an accusation the Silver Arrows have denied.

Hamilton, described by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff as “disillusioned” after missing his record-breaking title, will make his first public appearance since the race on Friday when Mercedes launches its new car at Silverstone.

Ben Sulayem chaired a crunch four-hour meeting of the sport’s major players in London on Monday with Masi, Wolff and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner all present.

He continued: “During the F1 Commission meeting in London, I presented part of my plan for a new step forward in Formula One refereeing.

“Drawing conclusions from the detailed analysis of the events of the last F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and from the 2021 season, I proposed an in-depth reform of the organisation of refereeing and race direction. It was unanimously supported by F1 CEO and teams principals.

“Here is my plan for these structural changes: Firstly, to assist the race director in the decision-making process, a Virtual Race Control Room will be created, like the Video Assistance Referee (VAR) in football.

“It will be positioned in one of the FIA offices as a backup outside the circuit. In real-time connection with the FIA F1 race director, it will help to apply the sporting regulations using the most modern technological tools.

Lewis Hamilton was denied the title in the final race of the campaign (Tim Goode/PA) (PA Wire)

“Secondly, direct radio communications during the race, currently broadcast live by all TVs, will be removed 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.

“Thirdly, unlapping procedures behind safety car will be reassessed by the F1 Sporting Advisory Committee and presented to the next F1 Commission prior to the start of the season.

“With this plan, FIA opens the way for a new step forward in Formula One refereeing.

“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.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox