The FIA has given the strongest indication so far that Formula 1 race director Michael Masi could be replaced and the role reimagined as part of the governing body’s response to the controversial way the 2021 season was resolved at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Masi’s decision to allow the race to restart for a final-lap shootout after a safety car period when only the lapped cars that were between title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen had been allowed to unlap themselves, rather than all lapped cars as per the regulations, prompted outrage led by Hamilton’s Mercedes team.
That Masi had previously indicated that none of the lapped cars would be allowed through at all compounded his critics’ anger.
The FIA is currently carrying out what it has described as a consultation with the F1 teams on “various issues” following Abu Dhabi, which will report back at an F1 Commission meeting next month before any changes recommended are put forward to the FIA World Motor Sport Council for approval when it meets on the Friday of the season-opening Bahrain GP weekend in March.
Newly-appointed FIA head of single-seater matters Peter Bayer is leading the process and gave some insight into the governing body’s thinking in an interview with Austrian journalist Gerhard Kuntschick for newspaper Vorarlberger Nachrichten, which has also been picked up by the BBC.
While describing Masi as having done “a super job in many ways” and saying the FIA “don’t want to lose him”, Bayer said “there is a possibility that there could be a new race director” – though he added: “I can only make suggestions to the World Council and they will definitely include Michael”.
Bayer’s remit in the FIA investigation includes to “review and optimise the organisation of the FIA F1 structure”, and he underlined that a restructuring that divided the current race director responsibilities was likely.
“The various tasks of the race director, who is also sports director, safety and course delegate, will be divided up,” said Bayer. “That was just too much.”
His comments appear to leave the door open to Masi remaining within the new structure even if the race director title itself is given to someone else. It has been suggested that Masi being replaced is key for Mercedes.
Last year’s new broadcasts of mid-race radio traffic between teams and Masi made clear how much the likes of Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and Red Bull counterpart Christian Horner were vehemently pleading their teams’ cases to Masi in the middle of contentious incidents. Wolff has admitted he now feels he went too far in this regard.
F1’s managing director of motorsport Ross Brawn made clear in the immediate aftermath of Abu Dhabi that he would push for such communications to be banned and Bayer said this will go ahead.
“We will abolish the ordeal of the race management and make massive changes,” Bayer said.
“The team bosses will no longer be able to tune in on this channel.
“In future, the race director will be able to concentrate on his task and will no longer be distracted.”
Team managers would still be allowed to ask relevant questions of race control, but Bayer wants to “build in a buffer with an employee who accepts these requests”.
He has proposed a “Mission Control” at the FIA’s Geneva headquarters to “support race control” in dealing with matters around the sporting regulations during events.
The ultimate root of the contentious Abu Dhabi finish was the recently-adopted move to ensure races finish in green-flag conditions. That ethos – requested by the teams – had prompted the late red flag and short sprint restart at the Azerbaijan GP earlier in 2021, and was part of the urgency to find a way to get one more lap of racing in at the finale.
Bayer said the FIA had asked the teams if green-flag finishes were still their preference and been told that was the case, so catering for eventualities around that in the regulations is part of his current work.
Though officially a line was drawn under the Abu Dhabi controversy when Mercedes decided not to go ahead with its appeal of the stewards’ rejection of its protest of the result, the team has intimated that Hamilton – who has maintained a public silence since the 2021 finale and did not attend the FIA world championship prizegiving – is considering whether to continue in F1 given how last season was decided.
This has also been regarded in some quarters as a deliberate attempt to keep pressure on the FIA to make changes around race direction, with the Abu Dhabi incident having been far from the first time when Masi’s handling of events prompted Mercedes’ ire.
Bayer acknowledged that had the case gone to court,” the judges would have said it’s different in the regulations, he decided that way, so we could just void the result” but that Verstappen would have still been champion had the Abu Dhabi result not stood, due to holding the points lead on countback going into the race.