Former Formula 1 driver Ralf Schumacher testifies that the “strong spine” needed to perform the role of race director in the sport is something that Niels Wittich certainly has.
Wittich has previously stated that he is an advocate for “hard, but fair” racing following the highly controversial end to the DTM season that saw Liam Lawson wiped out by Kevin van der Linde, before a dramatic reduction in speed by Lucas Auer and Philip Ellis allowed Maximillian Gotz, of a rival Mercedes team, to pass them and claim title victory at the Norisring.
Wittich was criticised for his involvement in the contention but, while Schumacher doe not personally get on brilliantly with his compatriot, he reckons Wittich is capable of doing a good job alternating with Eudardo Freitas in the role as race director.
“The two of us aren’t the best of friends, but that’s ok,” he told Sky Germany.
“He’s definitely straightforward and needs a strong spine, which he also has.”
The six-time race winner suggested that the challenges Wittich will face in F1 are of a “completely different calibre” to those he dealt with in DTM.
The changes to race control come after the contentious end to the 2021 championship, during which now former race director Michael Masi allowed a limited number of lapped runners to pass the Safety Car ahead of the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, allowing Max Verstappen to snatch the title from Sir Lewis Hamilton.
He has since been removed from his position by new FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem, but Schumacher does not believe the incident was all the 44-year-old’s fault.
“Honestly, the quality of the race management in Formula 1 was already very good,” he said.
The German cited the persistent radio communication as a factor that impeded Masi in his role last season.
“I think having the big bosses of companies in your ear all the time was very difficult,” he stated.
Radio communications have been severely restricted ahead of the 2022 season, and they will not be broadcast to the public.
Wittich and Freitas, who has over 20 years of experience in the World Endurance Championship, will be backed up by former deputy race director Herbie Blash and a virtual control room as the FIA seek to make for a more practical environment for race control.
The former Williams driver hopes that the new rules will achieve that goal.
“The key question now is: how consistently are the rules going to be implemented?” he pondered.
The new race directors have been place throughout pre-season testing in Barcelona and Bahrain, and are to alternate in the role throughout 2022.