Michael Masi is “likely” to be replaced as Formula 1’s race director ahead of the 2022 season following the controversial end to last year’s curtain-closer, according to a report.
Masi was at the centre of intense scrutiny on several occasions in 2021, never more so than the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Sir Lewis Hamilton was comfortably leading title rival Max Verstappen heading into the closing stages of the race, before a late crash for Williams’ Nicholas Latifi extracted a Safety Car, much to the dismay of Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff.
Verstappen pitted while Mercedes kept Hamilton out on track in anticipation that time constraints would see the race end behind the Safety Car.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner recently said he believes that race control were never going to let that happen at the end of a titanic championship battle.
In any case, five lapped cars therefore stood between the title protagonists, and Masi initially decreed that none of them would be permitted through due to the lack of laps remaining in the grand prix.
Four minutes later though, after tense discussions with both Mercedes and Red Bull, only the five cars between the leaders were waved through by the Australian, allowing Verstappen to pass the seven-time champion on the very last lap of the race.
Mercedes protested the late decisions by Masi in the aftermath of the race, before dropping an appeal several days later stating that they would hold the FIA “accountable” for an investigation they are now conducting into the events of the championship decider.
There is a case to suggest that the race director was overwhelmed by the pressure placed upon him by Horner and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff on several occasions last season, and the report suggests that infrastructure will be put in place to avoid this happening from 2022 onwards.
“[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,” BBC Sport has reported, citing a source.
“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.”
McLaren CEO Zak Brown has recently suggested an adoption of the IndyCar approach of employing full-time stewards should be considered, and the FIA is reportedly actively looking into this.
“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,” the BBC report added.
Further, it has been suggested that an ousting of the 44-year-old Australian from his position is entirely possible.
“High-level sources say that the most likely scenario is that a new race director will be installed for the 2022 season,” the report explains.
Further, the report reveals that “many insiders” recognise that a “series of operational errors” were made by Masi, but mitigation arrives in the fact that he was “left exposed, isolated and under too much pressure.”
It goes on to indicate that Masi supposedly “recused himself when the subject turned to the operation of the Safety Car in Abu Dhabi and the consequences and ramifications of that.”
New FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem is said to have met with the teams to discuss how best to move forward following such a contentious end to last year, and he has appointed Peter Bayer as executive head of single-seater racing since the beginning of his tenure in December.
Masi and head of single-seater technical matters Nikolas Tombazis will be working under Bayer’s supervision, and Bayer himself is also set to hold a meeting with teams and drivers on the 14 February, the same date AlphaTauri unveil their 2022 car.
The FIA will finish their report into the end of the race last month on 18 March, two days before the start of the new season in Bahrain.