Masi faced severe backlash and criticism after the decisions made when the safety car was out on track on the final remaining laps. After Latifi’s contact with Schumacher on Lap 52, the Williams collided with the wall resulting in the safety car being deployed, consequently slowing down the race and closing the gap between the leaders. Masi made the executive decision to remove the safety car prior to the final two laps. He ordered the cars between Verstappen and Hamilton to overtake the leading two cars to allow for an exciting final race of the season in contention for the championship. The final decision changed the entire outcome of the championship, ensuing chaos to come.
After the controversy of the race, Masi faced the wrath of Mercedes and Toto Wolff surrounding what they considered as a breach of the rules. Appeals were made and denied. The constructor’s champions made their stance abundantly clear as they boycotted the FIA prizegiving ceremony. Many drivers have since shared their opinions regarding the sacking of Michael Masi as race director. One driver in particular made it clear he was extremely unhappy with the outcome. Champion Max Verstappen stated, “For me it’s very unfair what happened to Michael because he’s really been thrown under the bus”.
Though some may argue his opinion is biased based on his result, other drivers also made their support known for Masi. The likes of Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo believe Masi has no right to be judged solely based on the unfortunate final event. Whilst this decision was a shock to many, Masi still remains within the sport and now takes on a new safety role within the FIA.
Masi’s replacements have since been announced. Niels Wittich, a former DTM race director, and Eduardo Freitas, WEC race director, will assume the role collectively. Since the incident, the FIA have confirmed that they are taking steps in a positive direction to create change in the sport. One of their first steps in avoiding any further conflict is the announcement of the ‘Virtual Race Control Room’. The VR Control Room has been explained by Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the new FIA President, in comparison to VAR in football offering another independent perspective and an extra pair of eyes. Much like football, the virtual control room is rumoured to result in quicker, more accurate analysis of incidents.
It seems like as in many other sports it was only a matter of time before the introduction of further technologies as a referee within the world of motor racing. It has been reported that the virtual eyes will be situated outside the immediate race circuit to help eliminate subjective decisions. Sulayem announced that there will also no longer be direct communication links with the racing team leads during the race. In doing so, this will ensure less pressure and attempted team influencing upon the directors and decisions can be made without any additional pressure.
The key role changes come at a time of transformation in the sport. With the introduction of the new regulations, the sport is turning a new page and striving for better, fairer racing. There is no evidence as of yet to suggest whether or not these changes will have a positive influence upon the sport, though I’m intrigued to see what’ll happen next. So, here’s to an up-and-coming 2022 season of F1, hopefully, with a little less controversy.