Former F1 race director Michael Masi was removed from his position following last season’s controversial Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He has now announced his decision to leave the FIA, slamming shut the door on his career; the Federation blessed his career with praise saying he conducted his duties “in a professional and dedicated manner”.
Masi, 44, was involved in the decision that resulted in Max Verstappen beating Lewis Hamilton to the world championship during the final race of last season. Max Verstappen was crowned world champion but it was a scene of a real controversy. Indeed, the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was strongly contested, particularly within the Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton camp. With the safety car deployed following Nicholas Latifi’s accident, the British driver was leading the race and on his way to an eighth title, which would have made him the only record holder to surpass Michael Schumacher.
But this was without counting on a controversial decision by the race directors including Masi, who opted to restart the race on the last lap as per the agreed preference from all team bosses, that is to always try and finish under green flag conditions. Max Verstappen changed tyres while the safety car was passing and naturally overtook Lewis Hamilton to win and be crowned world champion for the first time in his career.
This incident created a lot of headlines after the end of the season and Michael Masi, the race director, was regularly questioned. A few months later, the 44-year-old has now decided to leave the FIA.
The Federation itself announced the news in a statement on Tuesday saying:
“Michael Masi has decided to leave the FIA and move to Australia to be closer to his family and to take on new challenges,” the statement read. Michael Masi will no longer be working for the FIA in the future.
“Having taken over the role of Race Director following the death of Charlie Whiting in 2019, the Federation believes that the Australian has carried out his duties “in a professional and dedicated manner. The FIA thanks him for his commitment and wishes him the best for the future.”
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix controversy had been particularly blamed on him. The FIA decided to investigate whether this was the right decision to make. After a detailed analysis, the FIA recognised that there had been human error and decided to remove Michael Masi from his position as race director in February. Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, who had been working in other championships, were appointed to replace him on a rotating basis.
Subsequently, the FIA announced the introduction of a virtual race control room, modelled on the VAR in football, to better determine the decisions to be taken, especially after such incidents. Finally, communications between race directors and team managers are now prohibited, in order to avoid any form of pressure or influence on the decisions to be taken. Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton welcomed these innovations before the start of the new season.