Since the departure of Michael Massi as the FIA’s Formula One race director, the double headed hydra that has replaced him has at times looked woeful. Niels Wittich, former DTM race director and Eduardo Freitas, From WEC and Le Mans just don’t have the experience to slot into Charlie Whiting and then Michael Massis’s shoes. The two alternate F1 race director duties and this has led to complaints from the drivers of inconsistency in decision making.
The FIA official in control for the Italian GP in Monza was Niels Wittich who is arguably the least experienced of the two F1 race directors having only managed racing in a German national sports cars competition where races are generally shorter without the complexities of a Formula One event.
On lap 47 of 53 Daniel Ricciardo parked his car between the two Lesmo corners and race control dithered for some time before deploying the safety car. The car could not be rolled away by the Marshalls who had to wait for a mobile crane to arrive.
The Safety Car driver is meant to pick up the lead driver and let the others filter by and go around again to join the rear of the train of cars. However, race control failed to instruct the co-driver of the safety car properly having informed him to pick up George Russell who at the time was in P3 on lap 48.
The safety car displays a green light when cars are allowed to pass, but Russell noted it was not on. Despite Mercedes telling him he was free to pass, Russell refused in case he was issued a penalty.
When Wittich realised his mistake he informed the Safety Car co-driver to signal Russell and the other cars in front of Verstappen should pass and complete another lap, but this was now lap 51. The light on top of the car went green.
Eventually the safety car picked up Verstappen but it then took way to long for all the other cars to filter around for another lap.
By the time the proper order of cars was restored properly the Safety Car was starting the final lap of the race.
The other option open to Wittich was to decide with just 5 laps remaining, to red flag the race – order the cars to the grid for a standing restart. The FIA issued a statement claiming a red flag was not required. Yet Ted Kravitz of Sky believed it was a choice they had in the rule book.
The formation lap required when the race was ready to resume would have then provided between 3 and 4 racing laps to the chequered flag.
The last dry race completed under the safety car was Bahrain in 2020. Since then the teams and the FIA have had extensive discussions over preventing this from happening.
It is unsatisfactory for the fans who pay hundreds of Euro’s to watch the Italian GP and the Tifosi made their complaints known as boos rang around the circuit as the cars began the final lap behind the Safety Car.
Pierre Gasly commented, “It’s never that exciting to finish under the safety car – you always want to be racing to the line. They could have gone for an extra lap [one lap of racing] and knowing those guys at the front there would have been sparks flying into turn 1 [after the restart].”
Mattia Binotto was scathing over the FIA’s performance following the chequered flag.
“Finishing behind the safety car is never great. not for us, but for F1, the show and there was plenty of time for the FIA to act differently today.”
“There is a lap time the cars have to run to, so it was fully safe to release the cars earlier to regain their correct order,” Binotto observed. Of course 3 laps were lost buy the FIA not doing so.
“It is simply wrong and not great for the sport, Mattia added. “After Abu Dhabi last year we had long discussions on how to improve, because the final objective is to try to restart the race as soon as you can in a safety manner.”
“The FIA [race directors] need more experience and need to do a better job because F1 deserves better.After Abu Dhabi we agreed we should speed up operations and today we didn’t.”
Both FIA race directors Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich were reportedly in disagreement behind the scenes over the heavy rain that blighted the start of the Monaco Grand Prix. Martin Brundle was among those to question the procedure that saw the race delayed by over an hour, and according to Sky Sports’ David Croft, the duo who took over from Michael Masi did not see eye-to-eye over the issue.
This kind of incompetence and indecision is not acceptable.
Mercedes pressurised the FIA to sack Michael Massi because they disagreed with him refusing to end the 2021 world championship under the safety car, which would have been more unsatisfactory than it was today. Massi has returned to Australia and probably would refuse to return.
Toto Wolff was asked about the fans dissastification in Monza about the way the race finished.
“The race director’s call will be criticised,” said Wolff. “But this time they followed the rules.” A clear reference to his belief Michael Massi did not follow protocol.
Wolff added mischievously, “At least they followed the rules and accepted that the race ends under the safety car and this is how it should van been – and shouldn’t have been.”
Ind IndyCar the race used to repeatedly end under ‘caution’ but the governing body made changes to ensure now the races are completed under green flag conditions.
One solution would be if a Safety Car is required with 5 or less laps to go, the race is red flagged. The cars return to the grid and the race is restarted from a standing start when the obstruction on track is cleared.
Anything is surely better than the decision made by the FIA today in Monza.
Coincidentally, the FIA are meeting the teams tomorrow for a ‘sporting working summit’ to discuss a range of issues from this season. This includes how the new race operations centre in Geneva interacts with the on track officials to best m manage F1 races.
Explained: Why the race ended behind the Safety Car. pic.twitter.com/o0sTf916ks
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) September 11, 2022