Formula 1’s governing body, the FIA, is under intense scrutiny after Sunday’s controversial conclusion to the 2021 World Championship in Abu Dhabi.
The sport’s rules were handled during the safety-car period, which ultimately decided Max Verstappen’s driver title. This has brought out a deeper discontentment that was already under the surface.
F1 drivers and teams were shocked by the final events of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. This was after a season where many had complained about the consistency in the FIA’s decision-making.
Many people felt that Yas Marina was not following the correct rules. Now, many F1 insiders feel that the FIA needs to make changes.
This subject is controversial. Therefore, senior figures are not prepared to speak publicly in the immediate aftermath.
Many drivers and race directors have expressed concern to BBC Sport, however.
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Why was Abu Dhabi so contentious
Masi is the center of controversy as he was race director and made the final decisions for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He has also been involved in many contentious moments over the past year.
It is important to determine if Masi followed the FIA rules regarding the safety car operation and restarting the race for the final shootout lap.
Concern is focused on two areas:
He decided to only allow Hamilton and Verstappen to be overtaken – the five between Hamilton, Verstappen and the Ferrari between Verstappen.
The end date of safety-car periods.
Both these questions and the question of why Mercedes refused to protest Masi’s decisions, , are addressed in detail in this article
The main concern is that many controversial decisions, which are often in contradiction to the FIA rules, have had an impact on the outcome.
Mercedes’ appeal is over, but it’s important that these larger questions in F1 are not about who should or should not be the world champion. They concern fair and equitable competition.
Is there a problem with the decision of the stewards?
Further questions are raised by Masi’s Abu Dhabi operational calls and the decision of the stewards to defend them in the context of an year where consistency in rule application has been a hot topic.
2020 saw a safety-car period at the Nurburgring’s Eifel Grand Prix. Hamilton and Verstappen both complained that it was unnecessarily lengthy.
Masi was questioned about this afterward. Masi replied, “It’s a requirement of the sporting regulations that all lapped cars pass.”
He seems to have had a change of heart about the meaning of this rule in the past year. He followed one route in Abu Dhabi last year with regard to lapped cars.
Have you encountered any other problems?
There have been many questions throughout the season about consistency in penalty application and decision-making, most of which has focused on Verstappen.
Verstappen did not get a penalty for pushing Hamilton off the track at the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, when the Briton attempted to pass him for first.
Many drivers were consternated by this decision. They felt he should have been penalized.
McLaren’s Lando norris was among them. He had been in a similar situation with Sergio Perez from Red Bull in Austria earlier this year.
All the drivers had a discussion with Masi and the race stewards about this to determine what was allowed in wheel to wheel racing. A number of drivers questioned the situation after the meeting. The drivers were told not to force them off the track, but that it was allowed. However, the decision was up to the stewards’ panels for each race.
In Saudi Arabia, Verstappen made a similar move to Hamilton in the race following. He was penalized five seconds. It’s not surprising that Verstappen complained of inconsistency at the end of the season and claimed that he was treated differently than other drivers. He stated that the only thing he wanted to ask for was that it be fair for all. This is not true.
No matter how Verstappen may have been right about the incidents, or whether they were his fault, his point was representative of many drivers’ concerns.
Masi’s future plans and deeper issues
Insiders claim that the problem for the FIA is that in the context Hamilton-Verstappen’s title fight, the spotlight was on Abu Dhabi that F1’s reputation of being a responsible and well-governed sport is at risk.
This could have potential ramifications not only for the image of FIA but also for Liberty Media’s bottom line. F1’s massive global impact over the past week will attract some investors, but others will question whether it is a wise place to invest their money.
You only need to look at the social media eruption to see that one of the questions being asked was if the decisions were made with entertainment in mind.
Christian Horner, Red Bull’s principal, admitted that F1 bosses had discussed ensuring races didn’t end under safety-car conditions as it was an anti-climax.
It is possible to get the wrong impression that there are blurred lines between the legal arm of the sport, FIA, as well as the commercial arm, F1 – these two entities, which must be independent from each other according to an agreement with the European Commission that was made more than twenty years ago.
This question was raised following the controversy surrounding the Belgian Grand Prix in 2012. After hours of delays due to bad weather, the race was only two laps ahead of the safety car. The race was then called off and half-points were awarded.
It would have been regrettable, but it wouldn’t have raised so many questions about Masi’s position.
However, in the context of so many people over the past two years, some privately believe Masi might struggle to survive Abu Dhabi’s fallout.
Was it Masi’s fault?
Some will not be saddened if he passes. Others express regret over the situation and say Masi is doing his best in a challenging job under extremely difficult circumstances. He is not helped by the structure around him.
Some believe he is an isolated race control agent and lacks the support he needs.
Others claim that he’s too easily reached by team principals via the radio. This led to some of his conversations with Toto Wolff, Mercedes F1 boss, and Horner in Abu Dhabi, as the leaders of both title-contending squads sought to advance their positions.
These conversations were broadcasted – a recent phenomenon – raising further questions about whether Masi’s decisions have been unduly influenced or influenced by teams.
Teams also point out other ways they feel the FIA could have handled contentious issues in a more satisfying manner.
One example is the row over flexible rear wings during the first half season. This was a technical problem and therefore under the control of Nikolas Tombazis (FIA head of single-seater affairs), not Masi.
Red Bull and other teams used designs that lean backwards on straights in order to reduce drag. These were known as “limbo wings”
Although this is clearly against the rules that prohibit moveable aerodynamic devices, the wings in question have passed all relevant load tests.
The FIA eventually introduced stricter tests, but allowed teams to have a few races to adjust their designs. Mercedes, along with other teams, was frustrated by this decision. They believed that not only should action have been taken sooner but that it was unnecessary to delay solving the problem.
What’s the FIA doing?
The FIA must have realized that there were issues it had to address.
BBC Sport has announced that Peter Bayer, the organisation’s secretary general for motorsport will be appointed to the newly created position of F1 executive director. He will be responsible for Masi, Tombazis, and technical director Jo Bauer among other staff.
In some ways, this is a reconstitution the role of Charlie Whiting, FIA’s respected former director F1, who died just before the 2019 season – and Horner stated that the sport was not missing in Saudi Arabia.
Whiting was responsible for being the race director. People have mistakenly assumed Masi is his replacement. He’s not. Masi was only appointed to fulfill one portion of Whiting’s remit. Whiting’s remaining job, which was to keep F1 running smoothly by the FIA, had not been replaced.
The FIA did not respond to questions about whether it was conducting an internal investigation into Abu Dhabi’s controversy, nor whether F1 or its rules were fit for purpose.
However, a spokesperson for the F1 team pointed out that the F1 team does not exist to satisfy them and that any decision they make in the sport will likely displease some.
He stated, “Our role is not to break the rules but to be fair and transparent.”
The F1 teams would be unanimous in their agreement. However, the F1 teams would disagree on whether or not the FIA is succeeding.
A coming election
All of this is the background for Friday’s election as the FIA president, following the annual prize-giving ceremony held on Thursday.
Englishman Graham Stoker is the candidate and Emirati Mohammed Bin Sulayem is the one-two punch. The candidates have spent the last few months trying to get support from member clubs around the globe. It is believed that the election is too close to call.
The FIA is more than just motorsport. As Jean Todt, the current president, and Max Mosley, his predecessor, proved, they are responsible for a lot more. They have spent a lot of energy trying to improve road safety all over the globe with great success.
F1 is the FIA’s most popular sport. These issues will be at the forefront of the minds of whoever wins the election.