Michael Masi has officially been removed as FIA race director in a raft of confirmed changes to come into effect from the first pre-season test in Barcelona, FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem has announced.
Included in the announcement is the confirmation of two new “alternating” race directors for Formula 1, supported by former deputy race director Herbie Blash, and a virtual referee system which Ben Sulayem likened to football’s infamous VAR.
After the controversial end to the Abu Dhabi season finale, in which Masi was widely slated for his interpretation of the rulebook concerning safety car restart procedures, the build-up to the long-anticipated 2022 season is beginning to ramp up.
Car launch season is in full swing with only Mercedes, Alpine and Alfa Romeo still to officially launch their new challengers.
Ferrari launched their innovative F1-75 at 14:00 CET on Thursday in a relatively short but majestic launch film, presented by Team Principal Mattia Binotto.
The FIA then subsequently released its video statement only a few minutes after, meaning the two major news stories of the day were forcibly compressed into only a few minutes for journalists and reporters.
Some fans immediately speculated that the FIA was attempting to cover-up its announcement behind the ‘smoke-screen’ of coverage that a car launch provides. Crucially it also came less than a day before the hotly-anticipated W13 is launched by Mercedes, when Lewis Hamilton will take part in his first official media session this year.
Hamilton’s future was thought to be hugely in doubt during a prolonged social media hiatus and absence from public life after his Abu Dhabi defeat.
George Russell will join Hamilton at the launch, which will also be attended by Mercedes’ revised junior programme line-up.
Who are the two ‘new’ race directors?
Herbie Blash is not one of the incoming race directors, however he will act in support as a permanent advisor, owing to his position as deputy race director alongside Charlie Whiting from 1996-2016. Since departing F1, the 74-year-old consulted for Yamaha in World Superbikes.
Neils Wittich left the role of DTM race director last year ‘to take on a new challenge’, and was ironically replaced by Formula E race director Scott Elkins – widely thought of as in the running for the F1 position before today’s announcement.
Wittich actually went on to support Masi on Formula 1 weekends for the remainder of last year, but as race director for Formula 2 and Formula 3. Ben Sulayem has subsequently promoted the 51-year-old to F1. He shares this role with another stalwart of motorsport refereeing.
Former WEC race director Eduardo Freitas will make up the second-half of the revised Formula 1 FIA race director position. Freitas is extremely highy-regarded in motorsport, with his cool, calm and collected manner in dealing with unfolding situations involving upwards of 60 cars at once, gaining him enormous respect in the endurance racing world.
His authoritative, yet composed voice should be a great addition to F1’s in-race broadcast, especially if the series was to follow Formula E’s lead of live race director broadcasting (at the start and end of safety car periods, for example).
He has over 20 years of top-level race director experience which should go a long way in restoring the confidence of fans, personnel, drivers and teams alike in the FIA.