Masi ‘likely’ to be replaced in new FIA structure

Jamie Woodhouse
Michael Masi at Zandvoort. Netherlands September 2021

Michael Masi in the paddock at the Dutch Grand Prix. Netherlands September 2021

Michael Masi is set to lose his Formula 1 race director role as part of changes to the “race-management structure”, report the BBC.

Formula 1 has a huge 2022 season fast approaching as all-new challengers, designed to overhauled regulations, hit the track, this off the back of the 2021 title battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, one of the greatest scraps in F1 history.

But it is the way that this duel ended which means that F1 can not yet fully move on.

Verstappen emerged victorious at the 2021 season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, snatching the win and the title with a last-lap overtake on Hamilton, but the way that came to pass left Hamilton feeling that the result was manipulated.

Masi ordered only lapped cars between Verstappen in P2 and leader Hamilton to pass the Safety Car, so with a clear run and fresh tyres after pitting, Verstappen made the overtake at Turn 5.

Mercedes failed with two post-race appeals, while Hamilton, who has been silent since Abu Dhabi, skipped the FIA’s prize-giving gala along with Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.

At this time an investigation into the events of Abu Dhabi is ongoing, with a final report set to arrive on the opening day of practice in Bahrain, that being March 18 as the 2022 season gets underway.

Wolff has stated already that he expects “action, not words” after the Abu Dhabi fallout, and it would appear that action is indeed on its way.

Safety Car and backmarkers. Abu Dhabi December 2021
F1 Safety Car, Aston Martin Vantage, # 44 Lewis Hamilton (GBR, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team), # 4 Lando Norris (GBR, McLaren F1 Team), F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit. Abu Dhabi December 2021

BBC Sport state sources have informed them that the “FIA’s plans are to introduce a series of safeguards that will leave the race director freer to make decisions in a calmer environment”.

“A support structure is being planned for the race director, insiders say,” their report adds.

“This is likely to include a barrier between that role and the teams to avoid the direct lobbying to which Masi was subjected from the team bosses of both Mercedes and Red Bull in Abu Dhabi.

“Revisions to the operations of the stewards – who are independent of the race director and decide on penalties for breaches of the rules – are also being considered.”

However, it is reportedly likely that Masi will no longer be the race director as of the upcoming season.

The report states that some teams have made the recommendation to new FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem that a new race director is appointed, while “senior insiders” can not see how Masi will be able to keep his role, especially since the errors in Abu Dhabi were “merely the biggest and latest of a series over the course of the 2021 season and before”.

“High-level sources say that the most likely scenario is that a new race director will be installed for the 2022 season,” the report adds.

It must be noted though that a final decision to remove Masi has not been made, with the call for his exit seemingly far from unanimous across the grid.

BBC Sport reached out to the teams, with Red Bull denying that they had advocated for Masi to lose his role. Ferrari reportedly said they were not aware of such a request, while Williams argued that it is not a team’s place to determine the FIA’s personnel.

In addition, while “many insiders” accept that Masi made a “series of operational errors” during those closing laps in Abu Dhabi, it has also been acknowledged that he was “left exposed, isolated and under too much pressure”.

 

As part of the inquiry, Ben Sulayem has reportedly met with the team bosses to discuss the events of Abu Dhabi, giving them the chance to suggest changes going forward, while Peter Bayer, the FIA’s secretary general for motorsport and executive director of single-seaters, has held a meeting with the team’s sporting directors, reportedly chaired by Masi.

The report adds that according to insiders, the Australian “recused himself when the subject turned to the operation of the Safety Car in Abu Dhabi and the consequences and ramifications of that”.

Agreed in the meeting, as per the report, was that the race director’s actions must be more predictable in the future.

The next step in the inquiry is reported to be a meeting between Bayer and the drivers, before the F1 Commission meets on 14 February, where it is believed that the FIA will open up their proposed changes for discussion.