FIA president makes ‘promise’ to F1 drivers about 2023 race director

The race director role was split between Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittch in 2022 following the sacking of Michael Masi.

The 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix left new FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem with no choice other than to rethink the race director role in Formula 1.

An unorthodox safety car procedure in the latter stages of the race saw only the cars between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen to unlap themselves, allowing for one racing lap for the Dutchman to snatch the title away from the Brit.

On fresh soft tyres, Verstappen did exactly that and claimed his first championship title, leading to outrages from Mercedes and fans of the sport.

Michael Masi was consequently sacked and the race director role was split between Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich, in an attempt to improve the quality of officiating in the sport.

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Freitas was suspended from his role as race director after the Japanese Grand Prix, where he allowed a recovery crane onto the track in extreme wet conditions, despite Jules Bianchi tragically losing his life in an identical situation only years before.

Wittich then found himself in hot water after the US Grand Prix in Austin after he told Haas that they had an hour after the end of the race to launch a complaint against Fernando Alonso and Alpine, when actually they only had 30 minutes.

This saw Alonso penalised initially before having his race finish reinstated when it became apparent that Wittich has made a mistake.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem has now confirmed that neither Freitas or Wittich will return to the role in 2023, as the hunt is already underway for a replacement pair.

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The FIA president has promised that the level of officiating will be better this season, as he continues to make changes to the sport since his appointment in the latter months of 2021.

“There is a process now, and I have a team that is going through a proper process and training for stewarding, and for race directors,” said Ben Sulayem.

“You cannot have just one race director and rely on them – we should prepare a second role. We cannot rely [on one person], in the biggest discipline that we have, or any other discipline.

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“I am a big believer that there is, somewhere in the world, better race directors than anyone, better stewards.

“You will get good [officials], I promise this.”

With a rift forming in the relationship between F1 and the FIA, the will of Ben Sulayem to improve the standards of officiating in the sport will help to repair the fractured relationship between the two governing bodies.