Herbie Blash will bring credibility back to F1 race direction


Rehiring a 73-year-old may seem like a backwards move for youth-focused F1, but Herbie Blash will bring much-needed respect to grand prix officialdom, writes Simon Arron

Herbie Blash in 2016

Francois Flamand / DPPI

On the surface, it might not appear a particularly forward-thinking move to rehire a 73-year-old official five seasons after he stepped away from Formula 1. But the return of Herbie Blash doesn’t just restore a wealth of experience to race control.

Blash was part of the Bernie Ecclestone-owned Brabham team that flirted with the outer extremes of the grand prix racing rulebook during the late 1970s and early 1980s. When Motor Sport asked him about some of the tricks they’d pulled, he replied: “How far can I go? We ran a lightweight car one year in Monte Carlo – there was no parc fermé, so we just put the heavier panels back on when it was checked later. And then there were the water tanks in the side of the car, which we’d drain before the car went to the grid and top up afterwards – in those days, even in parc fermé you were allowed to top up the fluids, which was a ridiculous rule – but we weren’t the only team doing that stuff. We came up with tyre heaters, refuelling stops, air jacks, carbon brakes – so there was lots of innovation, as well as trying to bend the rules…”

In technical terms F1 might have changed radically since those days, but philosophically it’s not so different. Blash is perhaps the ultimate example of a gamekeeping former poacher – and the teams know it, for they share the mindset that was once his. He understands every nuance of the sport, whether it comes to regulatory interpretation or race management.

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His immense knowledge will be a useful foil for the new race directors Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich. They replace Michael Masi who was promoted unexpectedly to the role following the sudden death of previous incumbent Charlie Whiting – Blash’s long-time sidekick – on the eve of the 2019 Australian GP.

Social media has been ripe with indignation ever since Masi made the call to restart last season’s Abu Dhabi finale in an unconventional manner, but let’s nail one myth: Max Verstappen is not an unworthy champion. Whether he or Lewis Hamilton had taken the title last season, it would have been thoroughly deserved on the basis of their performances over the previous 21 races. The only ‘unworthy’ element was the manner of Verstappen’s coronation.

Would the campaign have ended so messily with Whiting and Blash at the helm? Unlikely. Would teams have been quite so comfortable making so many hectoring radio calls to race control with those two in situ? Also unlikely.

In addition to his experience, Blash embodies two qualities of which F1 has lately been in short supply: credibility and respect.