Formula One has been under new governance this season. The all new FIA under new president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has been under fire almost since the new head of the governing body was elected. Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff refused to attend the mandatory FIA gala in December and immediately were threatened with sanctions from Sulyem. Hamilton was indeed fined and the money given to charity.
Yet it is the replacement of F1 race director Michael Massi which is causing controversy week in and week out at each of this year’s F1 events.
Michael Massi took over from Charlie Whiting as F1 race director following Whiting’s sudden death ahead of the 2019 Australian GP. Massi was subsequently ‘dismissed’ following complaints from Mercedes that he mismanaged the 2021 season finale in Abu Dhabi costing Lewis Hamilton a record 8th WDC.
Yet his replacement was not one F1 race director, but two.
Eduardo Frietas and Neils Wittich were appointed as co-race directors by Ben Sulayem.
Freitas previously served as the race director for the FIA Gran Turismo, the European Touring car Championship, the European Le Mans Series and the World Endurance Championships from 2002 to 2022.
Wittich has less experience primarily as the race director for Germany’s DTM series.
The persistent complaint from the F1 drivers this season is that each of the race director’s and their appointed stewards is applying the regulations differently from week to week.
Wittich came under fire at the Austrian GP last weekend for failing to take control of the ‘drivers’ briefing, such was the chaos Sebastian Vettel walked out and was fined 25,000 euros.
A glance at Herbie Blash history reveals he worked for Bernie Ecclestone in the Brabham days but was appointed to assistant F1 race director under Charlie White in 1995. Blash quit this role in 2016 but was re-appointed as ‘special advisor’ the the new two headed F1 race directors.
Bernie Ecclestone has intervened stating, “Since Charlie’s death, the officials have made themselves ridiculous”. He believes that Herbie Blash should be appointed as the singe race director for Formula One.
Blash’s familiarity with the teams and drivers would sooth troubled waters and bring consistency to the track limits and driver etiquette decisions that are constantly criticised
“Sebastian, Fernando and Lewis know exactly what is at stake,” Ecclestone said. “But Charlie also left a void that no one can come even close to filling, he knew the drivers and team bosses inside out and knew exactly how to deal with them.”
Ecclestone believes Blash could fit this void.
“Drivers would accept him just as they would Charlie.”
F1’s forma supremo calls on FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem to step up and take control of the situation.
“He has to send clear signals now, because this confrontation with the drivers can’t go well for much longer,” added Ecclestone.
There are other voices speaking up about the F1 race control hydra. Gerhard Berger raised questions about the former DTM race director commenting, “I am not surprised by the discussions in Formula 1 at the moment,” he told Sport1.
“Let me put it this way: I know Niels Wittich’s strengths, but also his weaknesses.”
Berger’s less than cryptic comments suggest change may be afoot. Having jumped to Mercedes demands and replacing Massi, they are most likely to need to make a change again.
And on this occasion, Bernie Ecclestone’s views hold significant merit. Blash knows the job and the people and could calm trouble waters and bring some consistency back to F1 race control.