FIA admits that Masi’s F1 job could be under threat

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Masi’s position has been in question since the controversial ending of the Abu Dhabi GP, when the drivers between leader Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen were waved past the safety car deployed after Nicholas Latifi’s crash, and Verstappen used his fresher tyres to win the race and hence the 2021 championship.

An investigation into the events in Abu Dhabi, as well as an analysis of how to improve FIA procedures, is still ongoing.

Among the options under discussion are reducing the workload on the race director – which built up when the late Charlie Whiting took on multiple roles – and having more than one race director, and rotating them during the season.

Plans are also in hand to provide extra remote help to the decision-makers in race control, in a similar fashion to the way teams make use of engineering and strategy support from mission control facilities at their factories.

“He has done a super job,” Bayer told journalist Gerhard Kuntschik when asked about Masi.

“We have told him that, but also that there is a possibility that there will be a new race director.

“I can only make suggestions to the World Council, and they will definitely include him.”

Bayer has been the FIA’s secretary general for sport since 2017. In December he took on an extra role as executive director of the single-seater department – a change agreed before the controversial Abu Dhabi race – and thus he is closely involved in the fallout of the season finale.

Bayer also gave an insight into how Masi, who did not speak to the media after the Abu Dhabi race, has dealt with the criticism that he’s faced.

“He has developed a relatively thick skin against the attacks of individual teams. When you work at the FIA, you have to be aware that you are working for the sports police.

Michael Masi, FIA

Photo by: Erik Junius

“The policeman rarely gets sympathy, as in daily life. What has become unbearable is reactions on social media, they will stop at nothing, as you saw with the death threats against Williams driver Latifi.

“Michael doesn’t have a social media account, but the hostility in other channels really hit him.

“I assured Michael of the federation’s backing in our discussions and let him know – we want to continue working with you, but I also need your understanding that we have to deal with the issue.”

Bayer also addressed the specific issues in Abu Dhabi that remain under investigation.

“We need to catch up in the organisation,” he said. “Masi had several options in those seconds when he had to decide, all according to the regulations. He could have finished the race under the safety car or aborted it.

“But Nicholas Latifi’s accident would not have justified that. Or he could have done what he did.”

Bayer also pointed out that had Mercedes pursue its appeal, the outcome of the race might have changed, but not that of the world championship, as Verstappen was ahead prior to Abu Dhabi.

“I think the judges would have said it’s different in the regulations, he made that decision, so we could just annul the result. But even then – if it was annulled – Max Verstappen would have been world champion.”

Bayer confirmed that, as expected, team principals will no longer be allowed to talk to the race director via radio during events, with that option reserved – as it was in the past – for team managers and sporting directors.

“The team bosses will no longer be able to intervene on this channel,” said Bayer. “But the team managers will still be able to, because they have to be able to ask questions.

“We want to build in a buffer with a staff member who will take these enquiries. In future, the race director will be able to concentrate on his task, and will no longer be distracted.”

Meanwhile, the FIA has no plans to fast-track its response to the Abu Dhabi investigation, despite convening an Extraordinary Meeting of the World Motor Sport Council.

The FIA has scheduled the virtual gathering for February 3, but says that it won’t cover F1 matters.

Thus there has been no change to the previously announced timeline for the investigation into Abu Dhabi, and the implementation of any new measures that might result.

The WSMC usually meets four times a year, but the extra virtual event has been added to the schedule as a direct result of changes that have followed the election of new president Mohammed Ben Sulayem last December.

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The FIA says that the meeting will in essence be to address “housekeeping” issues, such as the appointment of senate members, that follow the transition from former president Jean Todt to the new administration.

The key members of Ben Sulayem’s team, such as his deputy and vice presidents for sport and mobility, were confirmed at the last WMSC gathering in December.

Earlier this month the FIA revealed a timeline for the Abu Dhabi investigation. Potential changes to regulations were discussed at a meeting of team sporting directors on January 19, but the full outcome is not expected until the next regular meeting of the WMSC, which is on March 19.

That timing has caused a stir given that the meeting takes place on the weekend of the opening race of the season in Bahrain GP.

A question mark remains over the future of Lewis Hamilton, who has said nothing in public since he lost the 2021 world championship on the last lap of the Abu Dhabi race, and who is clearly keen to see what the investigation comes up with.

Additional reporting by Norman Fischer.

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