The FIA under Jean Todt’s presidency from 2009 to 2021 may best be described as ‘steady away.’ The end of his term in office was marked with fireworks at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where in a final lap shootout Max Verstappen overcame a late season Hamilton fightback to claim his first world title.
Of course the dramatic events of that night in Abu Dhabi are seared on the collective F1 consciousness forever and one of the first actions for the incoming FIA president was to bench the F1 race director Michael Massi.
F1 race director required
Massi was replaced by a Mohammed Ben Sulayem appointment of two race directors intended to alternate in the role during the 2022 season. This did not end well for Eduardo Freitas whose decision on a rain soaked day in Suzuka to allow a recovery vehicle onto a live race track raised the spectre again of another Jules Bianchi type fatality.
Since then, Neils Wittich has taken the reigns to manage F1 races alone for the indefinite future. The current FIA fast track programme to deliver a collective of new senior F1 race officials (including race directors) will take time for the metering stage to be concluded.
However, Wittich has made it known he is not keen on having to fulfil all 23 races on the F1 calendar which leaves Ben Sulayem and the FIA in a bit of a bind.
Australian GP faces one year suspension
Talk of a return for Massi
Of note in Australia was the presence in the paddock of Michael Massi on his first return to an F1 event since the night in Abu Dhabi.
Sky F1’s reporter Ted Kravitz confirmed there was talk of a Massi return to F1 race control because Wittich needed “some help.”
Wittich created history in Australia as he threw the red flag on a total of 3 occasions which has never been done in the history of Formula One.
Massi reinstatement discussed in Melbourne
Gasly escapes race ban
Whilst the requirement for each of the red flags can be debated either way, it was the decisions regarding Gasly and Sainz which received the biggest criticism from certain quarters of the media.
Gasly’s negligent return to the race track caused carnage and resulted in the final red flag where 5 cars were affected. Yet to many it was surprising he was not reprimanded by the stewards and issued with penalty points.
Of course had Gasly received points for ‘dangerous’ driving he would be serving a band for the upcoming race weekend in Baku.
Gasly race ban controversy discussed
Sainz penalty hotly debated
Given the Gasly decision it was even more surprising that during the same incident, Carlos Sainz was even a 5 second penalty, reprimanded and issued with two penalty points.
This saw Sainz demoted from P4 when he took the chequered flag to P12 in the final classification.
Ferrari’s usually sanguine Frederic Vasseur has since made his feelings known over his driver’s penalty.
Ferrari boss criticises race control
“I think what is a shame for me is that considering that it was not impacting the podium, at least the stewards, they could have listened to them and to have a look on the data. And I think this is a is a bit of a shame.
“Last week we changed the regulation two times in 10 minutes about the pit stop for Alonso and we could do the same today, at least to discuss.”
Two weeks earlier the stewards allowed Fernando Alonso to race on for 32 laps following an incident they post race decided was worthy of a 5 second penalty. The decision was reversed following an Aston Martin appeal.
F1 stewards call for race restart rethink
Italian media slam Wittich
Vasseur notes ironically the different approach taken with his driver.
“They took 30 laps before to decide if Alonso was into the box or not and today took five seconds,” he said.ts set firmly on race director Neils Wittich.
“Niels Wittich gets a zero from us,” wrote Corriere della Sera.
“He did everything wrong. He always seems to want to cover his back, so as not to be held liable.”
F1 weekend format change agreed
FIA letter of the law approach criticised
Corriere calls upon the FIA to show more flexibility rather than the present ‘letter of the law’ approach its representatives appear to have adopted.
“The FIA also gets a zero, because they show no flexibility at all when applying the rules. In fact, the rules are not properly applied at all. They must fire Wittich immediately.”
Wittich position is safe because there is no one to replace him. And even if Massi is approached to assist him in his role it will surely be as more of a background mentor.
Verstappen threatens F1 bosses
Italian media turn on Ferrari drivers
However, the Corriere dello Sport does not stop with just criticising the FIA representatives, they have a cutting analysis of their national F1 team’s drivers.
“Ferrari is losing patience with the far too nervous drivers,” one of its writers penned.
“Leclerc was immediately knocked out, while Sainz had a chance to win a podium, but ruined everything himself.”
“Leclerc was furious and needs to calm down. Of course, he can’t help Ferrari being too slow, but losing this way only makes everything worse.”
“The podium was deserved for Ferrari, but Sainz threw everything away by hitting Alonso.”
LeClerc lost his fighting spirit
Charles Leclerc seems to have lost some of his fighting spirit. Having started last season in promising fashion with a world title within his grasp, it all fell away from the Monegasque in dramatic fashion as Ferrari proved again to be not up to the task.
Then in round one this year, LeCerc’s Ferrari again failed to finish the race due to mechanical failure.
At present Sainz looks the stronger of the two Ferrari drivers which is reflected in the 14 point lead he has over his team mate.
READ MORE: Panic at Red Bull as Verstappen close to disaster
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Masi definitely won’t return in any case, even in a mentor role, not only because his actions make a return untenable, but more importantly, because, in his words, he’s ”done with F1,” i.e., working in F1.
So – let’s get this straight: Massi had to go because he ‘interpreted’ the rules to avoid a finish Nader the Safety Car … which suited some but not others. Now Wittich has to go because HE ‘follows the letter of the law’ and DOESN’T give ‘any leeway’. Irony is alive and well in the land of GP racing …
It is a thankless job. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. No matter what you do someone will use you as a scapegoat for their own incompetence.
Masi should come back. Given the current rules about TP’s no longer allowed to discuss potential decision making during races there should be no problem with his reappointment. Isn’t this what a certain fanbase were unhappy about (even tho their favourite drivers boss was also trying to convince officials during races)?
You can only please some of the people some of the time.
Well said HAT and McCarthy!
Masi SHOULD come back, seeing what a dirty hand he was dealt by Toto and gang. As long as he did Toto’s bidding and was blatantly one-sided towards Merc, he was fine. In his second term, Masi should be far more firm and should not permit the ugliness of Bahrain 2021, Silverstone 2021 and the opening lap travesty of AD 2021. If he is not firm, Toto and gang will eat him for breakfast