Michael Masi ousted as F1 race director; Herbie Blash returns as new advisor

F1

Michael Masi has been replaced as Formula 1 race director in a reshuffle which sees the return of Herbie Blash

Michael Masi

Michael Masi is out after FIA reshuffle

Michael Masi has been dropped as F1 race director after presiding over the controversial end to the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

After months of calls for Masi to go from drivers, commentators and fans, the FIA, racing’s governing body, confirmed that he will no longer have a role in F1 race direction and would “be offered” a new position within the organisation.

Masi’s former role will now be split. Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich, race directors for the World Endurance Championship and DTM respectively, will share the job of F1 race director, rotating between races. They will be assisted by Herbie Blash, who returns to F1 as permanent senior advisor, five seasons after stepping down as deputy race director to the late Charlie Whiting.

In further changes, a virtual race control room will be set up for every grand prix, offering analysis of key moments, in a similar way to football’s VAR.

“A new race management team will be put in place starting in Barcelona for the test session,” FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem said in a video announcement. “Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas will act alternatively, as race director, assisted by Herbie Blash as permanent Senior Advisor, Michael Masi, who accomplished a very challenging job for three years as Formula 1 race director following Charlie Whiting, will be offered a new position within the FIA.”

Niels Wittich

Niels Wittich

Alamy

Eduardo Freitas

Eduardo Freitas

DPPI

Ben Sulayem said that the plan was proposed during the F1 Commission meeting earlier this week in London and the “in-depth reform of the organisation over refereeing and race direction was unanimously supported by the F1 CEO and team principals.”

The decision comes after a meeting of the F1 Commission, consisting of officials, team principals and race promoters, to discuss the FIA investigation into the events during the final laps of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Masi’s choice to ignore standard procedure and speed up the end of the safety car period allowed one final lap of racing at the end of the season. It handed the advantage to second-placed Max Verstappen who had changed to fresh tyres without the risk of losing position.

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Lewis Hamilton did not have the same opportunity from a lead that had barely looked under threat all race. He had been on course to win the Grand Prix and championship title from behind the safety car until Masi’s unprecedented decision.

Verstappen duly passed Hamilton and clinched his first world title.

Blash returns to F1 after five seasons away following his step down as FIA deputy race director to the late Charlie Whiting, Masi’s predecessor.

He held the position since 1996 and was replaced by Laurent Mekies who soon departed the FIA for Ferrari in 2018. Since then, the FIA has failed to find a direct replacement to take up the position, something that may have impacted the officiating of the ’21 season and placed extra pressure on Masi.

From the archive

Blash’s partnership with Whiting began back when the duo worked together at Brabham under Bernie Ecclestone. Blash was mechanic to Jochen Rindt while Whiting would eventually become chief engineer for the Brabham team.

Both of Masi’s replacements have a wealth of motor sport experience. Wittich – after working in a number of series, including F1 – has most recently been race director in DTM, whilst Freitas is moving from his role as an FIA Race Director of the Le Mans 24 Hours, FIA WEC, ELMS and Asian LMS championships.

The FIA’s inquiry into the events of Abu Dhabi are aimed at developing changes to the regulations in order to prevent a repeat of the events that it has admitted “tainted” the ending of a thrilling season. However, details of the investigation are not being made public.

“It was a good discussion but the integrity of the FIA will always be intact,” newly-elected Ben Sulayem told Sky Sports following the F1 Commission meeting.

“I am elected to do that but also have fair motorsport, as that’s my duty. So it was a very good meeting. We went through a lot of important things for the season, so I expect a good F1 season.”

2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: the fallout