It seems being the F1 race director is a poisoned chalice. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Following the farce in Spa 2021 where the cars ran behind the safety car only, Michael Massi told the teams he would endeavor to not finish races in future under the safety car.
Then came the season decider in Abu Dhabi. With a safety car deployed 5 laps before the end of the race, Massi interpreted the restart rules to allow a final lap shootout between Hamilton and Verstappen.
Toto Wolff and Mercedes cried ‘foul’ and for a short time threatened legal action, and the result is Michael Massi is no longer the F1 Race Director.
4 race weekends into the new season and Massi’s replacement, Niels Wittich, came in for some heavy criticism from Sky commentators David Croft and Paul Di Resta.
They were unhappy that DRS was not enabled until lap 34. Lewis Hamilton also questioned why this was not happening over the pit radio.
For Hamilton it ultimately made no difference because even when DRS was activated he appeared to lack the confidence to brake off line to get the DRS pass done at the end of the pit straight.
On the other hand, Yuki Tsunoda used DRS to great effect towards the end of the race passing Sebastian Vettel and Kevin Magnusson to claim P7 and his best result of the season.
Carlos Sainz hit the nail on the head when asked about the alleged inordinate delay in DRS being activated after the wet start.
“I think after what happened last year with George [and Bottas] in this main straight, they had a pretty big accident,” he told Sky Sports.
“I think it’s normal that the FIA is taking it easy with the DRS because it was a huge accident and the line is still wet so, it’s a risk/reward for the FIA and it’s normal the that they are taking it easy.”
Whilst a dry line appeared several laps before the teams decided to ditch the intermediate tyres, off line it was still wet.
Even after DRS was enabled, drivers like Hamilton were circumspect to drive off line in the braking zone when using the DRS.
There were also non-DRS passes during the race and so on balance the race director probably made the right call.
Neils Wittich has now had his first taste of scrutiny over the decisions he will be making when managing the races this season.