Mattia Binotto has admitted Michael Masi’s removal as Formula 1 race director came as no surprise.
News of the Australian’s exit from his position as manager of on-track action during a race weekend was announced right in the middle of Ferrari launching their new F1-75 car for the 2022 season – and, just as significantly, around 20 hours before Mercedes will take the wraps off the W13.
Masi paid the price for the controversial decisions he made during the closing stages of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix relating to a Safety Car period and the subsequent restart, with the one last lap of racing he decreed being enough to allow Max Verstappen to pass Lewis Hamilton for victory and consequently snatch the World Championship.
In announcing the news via a video statement, FIA president Mohammed bin Sulayem said Masi would be offered another role – which reports have suggested could be related to safety.
He will be succeeded by, in rotation, Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich, stepping in from the World Endurance Championship and DMT respectively, while a panel in the style of football’s VAR system will also keep a beady eye on proceedings from FIA HQ.
Italian media outlet Gazzetta dello Sport had fully expected the announcement on Thursday, following an F1 Commission meeting on Monday when the initial findings from the FIA’s investigation into what happened in Abu Dhabi had been discussed with the teams.
At that gathering, Gazzetta claimed the FIA had “left the teams baffled” because the Masi issue “was only touched upon” – but that was because the 44-year-old from Sydney was in attendance himself.
Nevertheless, there was clearly enough on the grapevine for Ferrari team principal Binotto to have been expecting Masi’s departure.
“It’s not a surprise for us at all, something that has been analysed and discussed with all other teams,” said the Italian after the F1-75 launch, quoted by Sky Sports.
“What happened in Abu Dhabi has been over-discussed, over-analysed. I think the fact it took so long shows the complexity of the matter, nothing obvious.
“It’s very difficult to say everything was wrong, any mistakes or not. Certainly when you are taking such a decision, you are under a lot of pressure in the heat of the action, the pressure is very high and the communications from teams to race director certainly doesn’t help.
“It was not an obvious situation and a difficult decision to take. We need to trust the FIA for its independence and its capacity to take the right decision to move forward. In that respect, we can only support.
“At Ferrari, we support the decision of the new president and the entire FIA, and we will continue to collaborate to improve the future for our racing.”
FIA reveal their structural changes
The FIA have revealed Michael Masi will no longer be race director.