Jonathan Wheatley believes it was a “mistake to broadcast” the teams’ radio communications with FIA race director Michael Masi during the final stages of the Abu Dhabi title decider.
Formula 1 took centre stage in the sporting world on December 12 2021 as one of the most hotly contested and contentious title fights reached its conclusion.
It was Max Verstappen up against Lewis Hamilton in a grand prix where whoever finished ahead would be crowned World Champion. It was all about the drivers – until it wasn’t.
Red Bull, Mercedes and Masi became the central focus as a late crash had the two teams pleading with the race director for a situation that would play out in their favour, those messages broadcast for the world to hear.
Masi made the unprecedented call for a final-lap shoot-out in which only the cars between Hamilton and Verstappen were allowed to unlap themselves.
“No, Mikey, no,” was Toto Wolff’s anguished cry as Verstappen took the win and the World title.
— TotoWolffBot (@TotoWolffCrying) February 1, 2022
While those communications on that Sunday did not cover anyone in glory, the broadcasting of the teams’ communications with Masi has added some new insight.
Wheatley, though, feels it is a mistake.
Speaking on ‘The Jack Threlfall Show’, he said: “I personally think it was a mistake to broadcast it.
“In Michael Masi, we have a precocious talent in that hopefully he will fill Charlie Whiting’s shoes. Charlie left a massive hole in the FIA in terms of that particular role.
“I think we (the teams) have supported Michael, and Michael has helped us. We have worked together in a collaborative fashion and that has worked out really well. The trouble is that collaborative fashion dies a death when it’s broadcast.
“There were situations when I got a bit frustrated and said things I shouldn’t have said. I’m not media-facing and it’s a nerdy level of understanding the sporting regulations that I didn’t think anyone would benefit from.
“More than that, I did think at some point the team principals would take over that channel, because the pressure is too important not to. These decisions are too important.
“The other thing is you can say ‘that’s not the regulation we should be following’ or perhaps ‘should we not be doing it this way?’ and of course you can’t have those conversations with the race director if they’re going to be broadcast.”
As for Masi being appointed as Charlie Whiting’s successor following the long-time race director’s passing just days before the 2019 season-opening grand prix, the Red Bull sporting director feels Masi is the right choice and just needs more support from the FIA.
“I think the FIA were slow to realise just what a big pair of shoes that would be to fill,” said Wheatley. “I think Michael with the right support is more than capable of doing that.
“On a personal level he’s a really nice guy with no edge to him at all, and he listens and tries to do the very best he can. But in Charlie we lost a behemoth of the sport.
“It’s very difficult for the FIA to fill that with one role. It looks like the new FIA president (Mohammed Ben Sulayem) is taking that very seriously and looking to put support in exactly where it’s needed.”
Formula 1 has yet to learn whether Masi will stay on this season, pundits split as to whether his position is now untenable.
Wheatley backs Masi, but is against broadcasting communications
Jonathan Wheatley doesn't agree with broadcasting communications but backs Masi.