Does F1 need a new race director or some other change after the line? Racing fans
Ahead of the start of the decisive Abu Dhabi Grand Prix racing weekend, FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi took proactive action to avoid a controversial championship conclusion.
In the regular test notes distributed to all competitors, Masi reminded them that the FIA has the power (rarely used) to forfeit drivers’ points if they are deemed to have seriously broken the rules.
Reading between the lines, it was a reminder that neither driver should assume that he would be allowed to win the title by knocking out his rival. It was an understandable step for Masi in light of what happened four days earlier in Jeddah, where stewards felt Max Verstappen had caused a collision with title rival Lewis Hamilton. It was their third significant contact of the year after Silverstone (where Hamilton was the culprit) and Monza (Verstappen).
Given its implications and the fact that Verstappen stood the most to gain from any collision in the Final, it was no surprise that he and his Red Bull team bristled with a public reminder that the FIA did not want undue interference on the result of the championship. But of course, in the eyes of many, that’s exactly what happened at the end of the race when Masi made a surprising break from convention to stage a restart that ultimately rocked the outcome of the Championship. world.
His decision to allow only a portion of the doubled drivers to join the lead lap – brushing aside all the cars that separated leader Hamilton from second-placed Verstappen, and none behind the Red Bull driver – went against the grain from previous tests. This led Mercedes to protest the result of the race; Once that was dismissed, they began to arrange for an appeal, to reverse that decision four days later, having concluded that even if they won, it would not restore Hamilton’s lost title.
Unsurprisingly, winners and losers saw Masi’s decision differently. Mercedes team manager Toto Wolff accused him of inventing a new interpretation of the rules that contradicted his past explanations and “stole” Hamilton from the title. “I’m not interested in having a conversation with Michael Masi,” Wolff said.
Red Bull sided with the race director – at least on that call. “There were five cars in between and he just sent them back, so you could drive that last lap,” said team motorsport consultant Helmut Marko. “It’s like the referee, he has the right and if he decides like that, then it is valid.”
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But a week earlier, Red Bull had quickly expressed its displeasure with Masi. Team principal Christian Horner says F1 ‘missed Charlie Whiting’ – Masi’s late predecessor as race director – after Verstappen received two penalties in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix .
Horner also faced off at Masi in the previous round, being transported to the Stewards office and given a formal warning after the race director reported him for criticizing a ‘rogue marshal’ for another penalty for Verstappen. This was a particularly ill-chosen remark for Horner given that Masi made his officer debut as a Flag Marshal.
Since taking over from Whiting, Masi has inevitably encountered the greatest scrutiny that comes with overseeing the world’s most famous motorsport. But Abu Dhabi catapulted him to a new level of glory. In the days following the race their name was searched online more often than 18 out of 20 drivers – all exclude the two contenders for the title. For those running the show, it’s a clear indicator of how many people weren’t impressed with how last year’s season finale was handled.
The role of race director invites criticism like few others. It is unlikely that any of the alternative options available to Masi at the time – like restarting with the doubled cars still in place or finishing the race behind the safety car – would have been popular with the Red Bull camp.
Yet the likely impossibility of a universally popular decision does not justify departing from past precedents in such a bewildering way. After all, it wasn’t just the championship contenders involved – the other drivers were mystified by how the restart was handled. This raises the question of whether such an appeal should have been possible.
Masi has become the center of attention in the decision and social media is full of calls for him to be replaced. But could this be more than just a superficial change? The FIA decided to look into what went wrong in Abu Dhabi but it doesn’t necessarily follow that he was at fault or that the only solution is to install a new clerk of the course.
Wolff admitted this when he spoke after the team decided not to appeal on the run. “It’s not just a decision to change the clerk of the course,” he said when asked if replacing Masi would give Mercedes more confidence in FIA procedures. “The whole decision-making system needs to be improved.
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“The clerk of the course is certainly under a lot of pressure and this is partly due to our own faults,” he continued. “I would have liked more coherent decision-making which could have avoided a lot of controversy throughout the year.
“But the last one was just a decision that had the biggest impact. From a sporting point of view, a catastrophic impact because he decided the world championship. But now you can tell that the whole season has been going back and forth and we were sometimes on the receiving side, and sometimes even luckier. “
Should we blame Masi for a bad call, or is it a system that allowed such an unexpected decision to be made? Either way, Wolff is clear that improvements need to be made.
“I am convinced that all of us together – the teams, the drivers, the FIA and the sport – can reorganize the way decisions are made and make the sport stronger,” he said. “I think this situation, painful as it is, is also an opportunity to improve the sport.”
F1 season 2021
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