Formula One: Australia’s Michael Masi sacked as race director after last season’s controversial final race

Following his controversial role in the final race of the 2021 season, Australian Michael Masi has been removed as the race director of Formula One. He had three years in the job.

Michael Masi has been sacked as Formula One race director. Picture: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Michael Masi has been sacked as Formula One race director. Picture: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Michael Masi has been removed as the race director of Formula One after his role in the controversial final race of the 2021 season.

Yesterday (Thursday) Mohammed ben Sulayem, the new president of the FIA, the sport’s governing body, announced a series of changes to how F1 will be officiated this season and said that Masi will be “offered a new position within the FIA”.

The race director role will now be shared between Eduardo Freitas, the World Endurance Championship race director, and Niels Wittich, the former race director for the Germany-based Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters series, starting from the pre-season test in Barcelona next week.

Masi was in charge when Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen fought for the title in the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi in December. Hamilton had appeared to be on course for an eighth world title until a late crash triggered the entry of a safety car.

Masi went on to make two mistakes, over the procedure of unlapping lapped cars and the timing of calling in the safety car, that directly affected the outcome of the championship and led to Verstappen winning his maiden title.

Mercedes initially lodged an appeal but eventually decided not to take legal action. Behind the scenes, however, it is understood that they have been pushing for Masi’s removal, as have other teams.

Masi made two mistakes in the pivotal final race of the 2021 season, which saw Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton. Picture: Lars Baron/Getty Images
Masi made two mistakes in the pivotal final race of the 2021 season, which saw Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton. Picture: Lars Baron/Getty Images

The FIA immediately began an investigation into the events in Abu Dhabi, led by their new president, who presented his findings and proposed changes to the teams at the F1 Commission in London on Monday.

Yesterday (Thursday), in a short video released during the Ferrari 2022 car launch, the president announced that Masi would step aside but would not be leaving the organisation altogether. Ben Sulayem added that Masi had “accomplished a very challenging job for three years as F1 race director following Charlie Whiting.”

Masi had been in the role since the start of the 2019 season, after Whiting died on the eve of the opening race in Australia. The well-respected Herbie Blash, who acted as Whiting’s deputy until 2016, will return to the FIA in the role of permanent adviser to support the race director.

Further changes for this year include a virtual control room, which will be set up to support the race director. It has been described as “similar to VAR in football” and would be based in one of the FIA offices. There is also a ban on all direct team communications to the race director, something that added to the controversy in 2021.

Last season was the first time that F1 had broadcast the radio messages between the teams and Masi, which led to the fans hearing much of the controversy in Abu Dhabi, when it appeared that Red Bull’s sporting director, Jonathan Wheatley, was trying to advise Masi on how to restart the race.

However, teams will still be able to ask questions “according to a well- defined and non-intrusive process,” which is likely to mean that they speak to Blash, who will then pass on the message to the race director. There are still issues to be resolved, including clarifying the unlapping procedure behind a safety car after Masi allowed only those cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to get out of the way.

The planned changes have been sent to the World Motor Sport Council for ratification. The council will meet on March 18, two days before the first race of the season in Bahrain.

– The Times

Originally published as Formula One: Australia’s Michael Masi sacked as race director after last season’s controversial final race

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