FIA planning new F1 race-management structure after Abu Dhabi controversy

Formula 1

Formula 1 is planning a new race-management structure in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the problems at last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

There is widespread acceptance across the sport that race director Michael Masi failed to follow the rules correctly during a late safety-car period in the title-deciding race.

That resulted in Red Bull’s Max Verstappen passing Lewis Hamilton on the final lap to beat the Mercedes driver to the title.

Governing body the FIA has been seeking the teams’ views on the matter.

The inquiry launched after Abu Dhabi is still ongoing and no concrete conclusions have yet been reached.

But sources have told BBC Sport that the FIA’s plans are to introduce a series of safeguards that will leave the race director freer to make decisions in a calmer environment.

Many insiders admit that Masi made a series of operational errors in the closing laps at Yas Marina that were contrary to the rules and accepted protocols – and there remain serious questions about his future in the role.

At the same time, it has been accepted that the Australian was left exposed, isolated and under too much pressure in the final laps of the race.

A support structure is being planned for the race director, insiders say.

This is likely to include a barrier between that role and the teams to avoid the direct lobbying to which Masi was subjected from the team bosses of both Mercedes and Red Bull in Abu Dhabi.

Revisions to the operations of the stewards – who are independent of the race director and decide on penalties for breaches of the rules – are also being considered.

Will Masi keep his job?

Removing Masi and finding a new race director is a recommendation some of the teams have made to FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, BBC Sport has learned.

Some senior insiders say they cannot see how Masi can credibly remain in his role into another season, arguing not only that Abu Dhabi fatally undermined his credibility, but that the errors he made there were merely the biggest and latest of a series over the course of the 2021 season and before.

And high-level sources say that the most likely scenario is that a new race director will be installed for the 2022 season.

However, there is far from unanimity on the matter. Other teams are said be either ambivalent as to whether Masi stays or would have no problem with it, as long as a more effective support system was put in place around him.

Red Bull denied that they had called for Masi to go. Ferrari said they were not aware of any such request. Mercedes, McLaren, Alpine, Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo and Haas were unavailable. Williams said it “does not believe it is for teams to decide FIA personnel”.

The drivers’ views on Masi remain unclear, although a number complained over the course of last season about the inconsistency of decisions, particularly in the context of some of the battles between Hamilton and Verstappen.

The FIA was unavailable for comment but Ben Sulayem said in a letter to FIA member clubs after his election that he “will take all the necessary decisions after examining the findings of the detailed analysis on this subject decided unanimously by the World Motor Sport Council meeting in Paris last 15 December.

“I will do so in complete independence, refusing any pressure from any quarter, in the sole interest of our sport.”

Why is this a big deal?

The fallout from Abu Dhabi remains the single biggest topic facing F1 and the FIA.

The credibility of the sport has been called into question – the FIA itself has admitted it was “tarnishing the image” of F1.

And Hamilton, who is said to have lost trust in the FIA, will not decide whether to return to F1 this year until he has an understanding of the actions the governing body plans to take to address the concerns that arose during 2021 over race management.

There is a feeling that the FIA initially believed the furore over Abu Dhabi would die down with time.

But one influential senior figure told BBC Sport: “Anyone thinking this would go away has not realised the gigantic size of this event.”

Where is the FIA’s inquiry?

Ben Sulaymen has consulted with all the team bosses to seek their views on what went wrong in Abu Dhabi and what changes could be made to militate against a repeat.

The FIA’s secretary general for motorsport and executive director of single-seaters Peter Bayer last week took part in a meeting of the teams’ sporting directors, which the FIA says was part of the inquiry into Abu Dhabi.

Masi chaired the meeting, but insiders say he recused himself when the subject turned to the operation of the safety car in Abu Dhabi and the consequences and ramifications of that.

It was agreed at the meeting that, in future, the race director’s actions have to be predictable – it was Masi’s improvisations around and failure to follow the rules in Abu Dhabi that led to the outcry after the race.

Bayer is next expected to meet the F1 drivers to seek their views on Abu Dhabi and other matters, although no date has yet been set for this meeting.

Following that is a meeting of the F1 Commission – which involves the teams, the FIA and F1 – on 14 February, at which it is expected that the changes the FIA proposes as a result of Abu Dhabi will be discussed.

What is the fuss about

Hamilton lost out in Abu Dhabi after Masi over-rode the rules with regard to the operation of the safety car, having come under pressure from the bosses of the two title-contending teams.

Masi’s motivation, it is said, was an apparent attempt to ensure the race did not end under caution. It had been previously agreed by the teams that, in the event of a late safety car, ending grands prix under racing conditions was a preferable outcome where possible.

But the result was that Masi failed to apply the rules correctly in two separate areas – over dealing with lapped cars, and in the timing of the restart.

In doing so, Hamilton, who was on course to win the race and the world title, was left a sitting duck on old tyres when the race resumed for just one final lap and Verstappen, on fresh tyres, passed him to take the race and the championship.

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