FIA president ignores GPDA plea

Back in the good old days Formula One had Charlie Whiting as the FIA appointed F1 race director and for years this was just the way it was. Whiting was appointed to the role in 1997 along with another title and duty that of the FIA’s F1 safety delegate. The dual roles proved to be controversial when at the 2014 Japanese GP Whiting sanctioned the start of the race despite the fact the weather conditions were unsafe for the medical helicopter to fly and the time to the nearest critical care medical unit behind the regulated maximum.

Following Whiting’s shock death just days before the season opener in Australia 2019, the roles passed to Aussie born Michael Massi.




One or two F1 race directors?

Massi had been Whiting’s deputy since 2018 and alternated in the role with Scott Elkins who went on to become the race director for Formula E.

Under pressure from Mercedes following his decisions while controlling the 2021 race in Abu Dhabi, the new FIA president decided to ask Massi to step aside. There was clearly no succession plan as had been the case when Whiting held the role, so the FIA found themselves in a bit of a bind.

Two F1 race directors were appointed to alternate for the 2022 season. Eduardo Freitas who had filled the role of race director in the World Endurance Championship and Neils Wittich who had a similar experience in German touring cars.



F1 Race control criticised

However, it wasn’t long before the two headed hydra experiment ran into difficulties. There were rumblings during the early grand prix of “inconsistency” of interpretation between the two race directors and by the time the F1 circus reached Monaco race control went into a perceived meltdown in the pre-race procedures.

A heavy downpour of rain during the pre-start procedure saw the start delayed, but it was over an hour and in the sunshine before race control eventually went to “lights out”.

Spanish F1 commentator Antonio Lobato detailed the strange goings on during the delay in the principality. The media have access to a live page where all the messages from race control explaining what is happening are displayed.



Monaco F1 start fiasco

“I base myself only on page 3 of what Formula 1 sends us, which is the page where we have all the messages from Race Direction, which I would like to think is the same that the teams receive, although the teams must have other types of information via radio,” said Lobato.

“What appeared on that page was very little and very poorly explained and, in fact, the start of the race is a bit surreal. The message of ‘The formation lap is about to start behind the Safety Car’ and then they do two laps, it’s no longer a formation lap per se, and yet the race time doesn’t start.

“Then there came a moment when those of us who were broadcasting, Toni, Pedro and myself, had a doubt. We said, ‘Let’s see, has the race started or hasn’t it started? Because the stopwatch didn’t move, it didn’t move a second and they had done two laps and that’s when the red flag came out and they went inside.



F1 Race director risks drivers’ lives

Sadly there were other PR disasters for F1 race control during the 2022 season. An error of judgement in Japan made by Eduardo Freitas have onlookers flashback to the Bianchi incident 8 years earlier. Race control sanctioned a recovery tractor onto the live circuit in appealing visibility with the result Pierre Gasly flashed within inches of the vehicle while approaching a speed of 250kph.

Freitas was sidelined for the final four races of the year.

Then in the USA Neils Wittich failed to call in the Alpine of Fernando Alonso for driving an “unsafe” car as for lap after lap his wing mirror dangled by a thread eventually flying off away from the asphalt on the back straight.



Unsafe F1 cars allowed to race on

In a bizarre post race move, Alonso was awarded a 30 second penalty for this transgression though Alpine successfully appealed the matter to another set of stewards the following weekend in Mexico.

Reprimands and penalty points were of constant irritation to the drivers throughout the year and the spokesman grand prix drivers’ association, George Russell, lamented the drivers “believe that having the rotation isn’t the best thing for a sport, for that consistency.”

He added: “We’ve never had a steward from a previous event at the following race to talk about any certain decisions, I believe.”



F1 drivers call for continuity

The lack of continuity amongst the stewards is equally as bad as lack of consistency from one race director to another. Stewards are appointed on a grace and favour basis from the various FIA supported associations.

Valtteri Bottas also questioned whether two race directors were the right way to go.

“One [race director] would be better than two or three. That’s my feeling. The same person in each race, you always have the same person to discuss with if he’s been in all the races before and taken all the feedback and kind of knows our view.”

Yet FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has revealed there will be more of the same in 2023. 



Will Neils Wittich return to F1 in 2023?

While there appears to be some confusion over whether Neils Wittich will return for 2023 amongst those claiming to have sources, The FIA president has made it clear there will again be 2 rotating F1 race directors.

“There is a process underway. We have a team working on the training of curators and race directors,” he told assembled press.

“You can’t have only one [director]. I think we have to have a second option. We can’t trust each other because what if something happens? We have to be prepared for any contingency if we want to strengthen our sport.

Ben Sulayem revealed the FIA have asked their motorsport associations to nominate potential candidates for training as stewards and race directors.



Ben Sulayem ignores F1 drivers’ plea

“I always believe that in the world there is someone better, a better race director… Our team is training them and I promise you, and you are recording me, that we will have them.”

So the 2023 Formula One season is set for more complaints from the teams and drivers over differing interpretations of different instances which will occur on track. 

Yet there was a significant improvement in the mood of F1 observers towards a point of contention that has existed since the Whiting era – track limits.

The stewards in 2022 policed this at each circuit and punished almost all infringements which provided the consistency the teams and drivers crave.

READ MORE: Hamilton, “This is the problem of F1”



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