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FIA Director Given the Red Flag

Former FIA director, Michael Masi, Removed from position After controversial season

By Jess Hodges

Following a turbulent and highly divisive season, FIA race director Michael Masi has officially been removed from his position ahead of the new 2022 Formula 1 season. Since having started the role after the untimely death of Charlie Whiting in 2019, Michael Masi had taken on the responsibility to dictate and investigate certain elements that the Formula One teams found controversial throughout the last three seasons of racing. 

The 2021 season is now regarded as one of the most controversial seasons of its time due to the championship battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Vertsappen, a total of eight World Championships between them. This Championship was always going to be an important one as Lewis Hamilton, if he had won, would have beaten Michael Schumacher’s seven-time World Championship record, becoming the most highly celebrated and influential figure in Formula One racing history. The championship battle between Max and Lewis came to severe blows a few times throughout the season as the two collided; the first incident was in Silverstone as Max hit the barriers at 190mph, leaving him out of the race and hospitalised. Being out of the race in a Championship where every race and point matters, Max’s crash at Silverstone let Lewis close in further in the title fight. Michael Masi’s impact on such events was crucial as it enabled Lewis and or Max to gain or lose an advantage during said race via pit stop penalties and steward assessments after the race; fines and penalty points were given to those deemed guilty of unacceptable driving or dangerous actions. In Addition to the rivalry between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton there was also another vivid rivalry between both teams’ principles, Toto Wolff and Christian Horner. With team rivalries peaking throughout the season both Wolff and Horner escalated the rivalry with personal digs and gestures towards one another via the media. In Netflix’s new season of Drive to Survive, Horner airs his fury over the clashes with Hamilton and Mercedes, ending with a steadfast, hardy, and determined statement: “We’re in this fight. It’s all to play for” (Drive to Survive, S4E3, 44:22). 

With the tensions rising throughout the season, and Hamilton and Verstappen’s lead going back and forth for the title, it is understandable that tensions grew even more so for the teams and their respective principles. Michael Masi was the first call. Whenever something went against the respective teams’ plan this led to multiple radio calls from both Wolff and Horner pleading with Michael Masi to give penalty points and or restrictions to the other team. This is something which has since been investigated and changed for the 2022 season as it has come under fire from many critics stating that it is unfair and gives each team a chance to gain favour with the race director, therefore disadvantaging the other teams. Some viewers have enjoyed the increased level the drama, watching the radio box pop up on the screen on the television stating what each team principal was pleading and why, it does make it a more level playing field,as sometimes they were used as collateral damage due to the winning teams radio communications, ultimately leading them further down the points and championship table. 

Even though the internet did create some memorable memes from last year’s season, including Toto Wolff’s plea to Michael Masi being turned into a Valentine’s Day themed meme; the meme stated “Ferrari is red, Haas is white: *A picture of Toto Wolff saying* “No Mikey, no. This is so not right”. The graphics on the television screen showing the communication between team principles and Michael Masi highlighted to many viewers the bias and influence such radio messages can have on people who are supposed to remain impartial to any team. Due to these incoming messages, it can be argued that Michael Masi’s impartial stance was jeopardised by both Wolff and Horner, suggesting that the season’s aim for consistency was not achieved as Masi was easily influenced by team principles at the higher end of the field. Even if this had occurred only once or twice during the 2021 season, it would still look bad on Masi’s part due to the FIA’s insistent nature on consistency and their impartial nature within the sport. The fact that it occurred on more than a half of the races, thereby affecting the championship fight between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, signifies that something had to be done regarding the systems in place for the management of the FIA and race director. The FIA addressed via a video published on their website that “Direct radio communications during the race … will be removed in order to protect the race director from any pressure and allow him to take decisions peacefully” alluding to the stress Masi was put under previously throughout the season (FIA, 2022, 01:14). Additionally, the movement of Masi to another position within the FIA emphasises the shift in managerial roles, with two new race directors being appointed alongside the return of Herbie Blash, – who acted as deputy to Masi’s predecessor, Charlie Whiting.

The FIA’s two new race directors, Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, are to alternate their roles throughout the upcoming season. How this ensures that consistency is maintained throughout the next season, is yet to be seen; it seems unlikely that both individuals will share the same opinion on every incident they have to investigate. Possible disagreements between the two new race directors have the potential to make the new season additionally a  controversial one; the decisions made will colour the progress of the next season. It is essential both parties are on the same page. Nevertheless, the FIA have issued a statement regarding the hiring of two new FIA race directors for the single position, ultimately praising Michael Masi for the role he has occupied for the last three years: “[Masi] accomplished a very challenging job for three years as F1 race director following Charlie Whiting” (FIA, 2022, 02:18).

So, it is yet to be seen how the new FIA’s system for race director and company will unfold in the upcoming season, with practice and testing just completed, it is not long before all ten teams, and twenty drivers, will be back out on the track, racing once again.