George Russell isn’t a fan of the FIA’s plans to rotate race directors again

Michelle Foster
George Russell with his engineer. Austria July 2022.

George Russell speaks to his Mercedes engineer before the race starts. Austria July 2022.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s plans to once again rotate race directors in 2023 will not have gone down well with Grand Prix Drivers’ Association’s director George Russell.

Last season, following the exit of Michael Masi in the wake of the controversial 2021 Abu Dhabi finale, the FIA implemented a rotating race director system for the 2022 season.

Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas shared the duties but it wasn’t without problems with the drivers unhappy with what they saw as a lack of consistency.

Two became one late in the season when, following the Japanese Grand Prix and Pierre Gasly’s close encounter with a recovery vehicle, the FIA announced that just one of the two race directors – Wittich – would see out the campaign.

Wittich, though, is expected to follow Freitas out the door before this year’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, FIA president Ben Sulayem telling Marca there’s a “process underway” to find a new race director.

Make that race directors.

“You can’t have only one [director],” added the 61-year-old. “I think we have to have a second option.

“We can’t trust each other because what if something happens? We have to be prepared for any contingency if we want to strengthen our sport.”

That’s unlikely to go down well with Russell.

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According to The Mirror, the Mercedes driver has made it clear that he and the rest of the drivers don’t feel the rotating system was working.

“We believe that having the rotation isn’t the best thing for a sport, for that consistency,” he said. “We’ve never had a steward from a previous event at the following race to talk about any certain decisions, I believe.”

Valtteri Bottas agreed.

“One would be better than two or three,” said the Alfa Romeo driver. “That’s my feeling.

“The same person in each race, you always have the same person to discuss with if he’s been in all the races before and taken all the feedback and kind of knows our view.”

Race director training versus grey rule book

Back in 2021 Formula 1 had only one voice speaking as the race director: Michael Masi. Turned out his voice, and his understanding of the regulations, wasn’t quite on point and he found himself exiting stage left after his controversial call in Abu Dhabi to set up a final lap shoot-out.

A year later two voices spoke, Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas. But they spoke at different times resulting in the Japanese Grand Prix recovery vehicle moment, where Freitas was in charge, and the United States Grand Prix protests by Haas, where Wittich was in charge. That’s just two of 2022’s bad race director calls.

It shows that having a rotating system doesn’t work, what Formula 1 needs is experienced race directors who not only know the rule book but understand how it should be implemented. But experience is only gained through, well experience.

Ben Sulayem says his FIA is busy training F1’s next race directors – “our team is training them and I promise you, and you are recording me, that we will have them” – which begs the question were the previous two not trained up on F1’s regulations?

Alas no amount of training makes up for experience especially with a Formula 1 rule book that’s written in part in grey.