The Mercedes Formula 1 team and Lewis Hamilton’s wish came true on Thursday when the FIA confirmed that Michael Masi will step down from his role as the FIA race director. The decision was made after the FIA undertook a review off the controversial season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Masi was under immense pressure due to his handling of the Abu Dhabi GP, especially the safety car procedure in the final laps. The race director’s decision to restart the race on the final lap allowed Max Verstappen to overtake Lewis Hamilton and not only claim the race win but also the 2021 world championship title.
Mercedes were incensed with his decision and lodged an appeal with the race stewards, which was later rejected. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and Hamilton refused to attend the FIA prize giving gala, and called for action from the FIA as they felt the race result had been manipulated.
After an extensive review of the events at the Yas Marina Circuit, the FIA have confirmed that Masi will be replaced as the race director. Niels Wittich, former DTM race director, and Eduardo Freitas, WEC race director, will act alternatively as F1’s race director.
Wittich and Freitas will be assisted by Herbie Blash as the permanent senior advisor. Blash is returning to F1 five years after stepping down as the deputy race director to the late Charlie Whiting. Masi is expected to remain in F1, with the FIA offering the Australian a safety role within the organisation.
Apart from the dual race directors and a senior advisor, the FIA is also setting up a Virtual Race Control Room that has been likened to the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) used in football. It is expected to be set up in one of the FIA offices with real time communications with the race directors during the race.
The FIA announcement coincided with the launch of Ferrari’s F1-75 for the 2022 season, and it came one day before Mercedes launched its W13. Hamilton’s future was previously linked to the FIA review outcome, but Mercedes have since confirmed that he will be on the grid when the new season gets underway.