FIA removes Michael Masi from F1 race director after Abu Dhabi title controversy

F1 Michael Masi controversy
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
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PARIS — Michael Masi will be replaced as F1 race director following the controversy surrounding the finish of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that decided the Formula One championship last December, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem said Thursday.

Motorsport’s governing body reached its decision after conducting a detailed analysis of the wild ending at the season finale, where Red Bull driver Max Verstappen won his first world title after overtaking Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton on the last lap.

Masi, 44, is staying with the FIA but in an undetermined role.

“A new race management team will be put in place starting in Barcelona (next week) for the test session,” Ben Sulayem said in a statement.

“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,” he continued. “I presented this complete plan to the members of the World Motor Sport Council and the Senate who gave their full support.”

Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas will act alternatively as race director, assisted by Herbie Blash as permanent senior advisor, Ben Sulayem said.

The Abu Dhabi outcome followed a key decision by Masi, prompting deep confusion and seething vitriol in some quarters – with the FIA saying the sport’s image had been tarnished as a consequence.

Hamilton led comfortably until a crash by Nicholas Latifi brought out the safety car with five laps remaining. Verstappen stopped under yellow for a fresh set of tires, and Masi flipped his decision and let the drivers separating Verstappen from Hamilton pass the safety car under yellow.

Verstappen restarted second behind Hamilton with much fresher tires, zooming into the lead in the fifth turn.

Mercedes lost both its protests over how the race ended.

Hamilton was utterly dejected at the way he missed out on a record eighth F1 title to move ahead of fellow great Michael Schumacher.

Although Masi was heavily criticized, though he was also in a difficult position during the race, with both Mercedes and Red Bull able to talk directly with him in a moment of intense pressure. This raised questions as to whether F1 was becoming too much of a TV show and less of a sport.

That debate is now over.

“Direct radio communications during the race, currently broadcast live by all TVs, will be removed in order to protect the race director from any pressure and allow him to take decisions peacefully,” Ben Sulayem said. “It will still be possible to ask questions to the race director, according to a well-defined and non-intrusive process.”

The structural changes see the creation of a new soccer-style Virtual Race Control Room, while unlapping procedures behind safety cars will be reassessed before the first race in Bahrain on March 20.

“Like the Video Assistance Referee (VAR) in football, it will be positioned in one of the FIA offices as a backup outside the circuit,” Ben Sulayem said. “In real-time connection with the FIA F1 race director, it will help to apply the sporting regulations using the most modern technological tools.”

Ben Sulayem hopes the 2022 season will be a more appeased one after high tensions between Red Bull and Mercedes and from teams toward officials dominated 2021. The blameless Latifi even hired bodyguards after receiving death threats.

“With this plan, FIA opens the way for a new step forward in Formula 1 refereeing. Without the referees, there is no sport,” Ben Sulayem said. “Respect and support of the referees is in the essence of the FIA.”

The changes were announced on the eve of Mercedes launching its 2022 car, with Hamilton (who recently ended his social media silence) set to speak publicly for the first time since Abu Dhabi.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10-3 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 7 p.m. to USA Network. Peacock will have flag-to-flag coverage.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III