FIA confirm departure of ex-race director Michael Masi

FIA former Race Director Michael Masi.

FIA former Race Director Michael Masi.

Former F1 race director Michael Masi has left the FIA, the governing body have confirmed.

Masi, replaced as race director for the 2022 Formula 1 season following the controversial end to the 2021 campaign, has been confirmed as having departed the FIA.

According to a short statement from the FIA, Masi has made the decision to leave his role and relocate to Australia to be closer to his family and “take on new challenges”.

Masi was F1 race director and safety delegate for three seasons, stepping up to the role following the sudden death of stalwart Charlie Whiting at the 2019 Australian Grand Prix.

However, Masi’s position came under threat after his handling of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix season finale, which was a title showdown between Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

A late Safety Car period allowed Verstappen the opportunity to stop for fresh tyres and close up behind Hamilton for a potential restart – a restart Mercedes believed would not come, according to the letter of the regulations.

However, Masi made a call for the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves, clearing the way for Verstappen to attack Hamilton when the Safety Car was withdrawn with a single lap to go – the Dutch driver successfully getting past to clinch the title.

Given the rulebook indicated the race should not have resumed until the end of the following lap, which would have resulted in a Hamilton title victory, Masi’s actions met with furious public backlash – and the Australian has yet to surface publicly since the events of that race.

Formula 1 race director Michael Masi pointing. Portugal, October 2020.
Formula 1 race director Michael Masi, with the FIA logo on his jacket, pointing. Portugal, October 2020.

The huge public outcry was also fuelled by the response of Mercedes to the handling of the race, with team boss Toto Wolff and Hamilton both making it clear they felt Masi’s actions had resulted in the title swinging away from them and towards Red Bull.

Hamilton’s participation in the 2022 season even appeared in doubt for several weeks after the race, with his confirmation to continue only coming after Masi had been removed from his role.  Hamilton later said he had never hinted he would stop racing.

Unsurprisingly, Red Bull backed Masi’s decision-making, with reigning World Champion Verstappen later saying Masi had been “thrown under a bus” by the governing body, while Christian Horner said the FIA had given into “bullying” from Mercedes.

Masi was replaced as race director for 2022 as newly-elected Mohammed Ben Sulayem, together with former Secretary-General Peter Bayer, made the decision to remove him from the role – Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas now share the job.

Given the gruelling schedule of the 2021 season, and Masi taking on a huge workload, weaknesses in the race governance structure were acknowledged by the FIA following an intensive investigation into the timeline of events at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The new race directors are now more ably supported by a ‘Virtual Race Control’, while team bosses no longer have a direct line to the race director in a bid to apply pressure – both Red Bull’s  Horner and Jonathan Wheatley could be heard on team radio during the high-pressure moments of the closing laps in Abu Dhabi, while Mercedes’ Wolff also made his feelings clear as he addressed Masi over team radio.

Motorsport Australia earlier this year indicated they would be willing to take Masi’s experience and knowledge back if the Australian chose to return home, Masi hailing from a background in V8 Supercars before becoming Whiting’s understudy for F1.

The FIA statement thanked Masi “for his commitment and wishes him the best for the future”.