With backlash against Race Control weighing on the FIA, Mohammed Ben Sulayem believes he has devised a way to “future-proof” F1 refereeing.
The FIA president oversaw the first three-day event on his High Performance Programme in Geneva last weekend, bringing together 24 trainees for an officiating masterclass.
Comprising 16 race directors and eight stewards from both genders, the trainees flew in from all five continents, representing countries like Spain, Kenya and the UAE. They will receive training from FIA experts on the development pathway throughout 2023.
The goal is to create a pool of talent ready to raise the level of officiating across all FIA Championships – sparked by the glaring shortcomings of Formula 1 referees.
Ben Sulayem took the reins at motorsport’s governing body amid a crisis, days after the scintillating 2021 F1 Championship’s Abu Dhabi finale was overshadowed by a bizarre set of decisions at Race Control.
For 2022, Australian official Michael Masi was replaced by a rotating duo of former endurance racing officials, Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich… only for Freitas to be dropped following the near-disastrous recovery vehicle controversy at Suzuka.
Wittich, who gave a presentation to the 24 trainees in Geneva, will continue as the FIA’s sole race official this season while leading Ben Sulayem’s High Performance Programme.
“My leadership team inherited a number of challenges when we took office at the end of 2021,” Ben Sulayem admitted.
“It has been well documented that one of those was Race Control management. We have made changes to the Race Control operation and we have devised the High Performance Programme to ensure that we have a pathway of talent coming through for the years ahead.
“As a not for profit, we are taking funds received through our championships and investing heavily in this area, engaging FIA Member Clubs from all regions to future-proof the next generation of officials and to benefit motor sport from grass roots to world championships.
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“The High Performance Programme has been introduced to identify and nurture a pool of talent to create continuity and consistency, ensuring that we bring rigour and best practice to the regulation of the sport.
“This initiative also aligns with our mission of creating equal opportunities across the entire geographic spread of our global membership. The men and women who participated in our kick-off event in Geneva and will be mentored throughout 2023 and beyond. They are the future of officiating for the FIA.”
Time to tighten-up
The FIA’s new programme aimed at raising the quality of officiating across motorsport is a welcome step, particularly for the 20 Formula 1 drivers.
Last season’s Japanese GP incident is one near-miss the FIA can’t afford to repeat. When a recovery vehicle was inexplicably allowed onto the track under a safety car period, Pierre Gasly was badly shaken after flying past the truck at high speed – only for the Frenchman to receive a penalty.
Another major talking point was the FIA’s inconsistent application of the black and orange flag. Haas were infuriated that Fernando Alonso was not pulled into the pits after losing a mirror at the US GP, after Kevin Magnussen had been shown the flag on multiple occasions in 2022.
The season was littered with minor errors that failed to reinstall confidence in Race Control after the 2021 debacle. The teams and drivers can only hope Niels Wittich establishes some continuity and calm in 2023, and that Ben Sulayem’s programme can indeed “future-proof” Race Control.