F1 Race Director Michael Masi will probably be fired

Since the controversial championship-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix a few months ago, FIA F1 race director Michael Masi has faced calls to be fired since his liberal interpretation of the rules that ensured the cars raced to the checkered flag at the expense of the Mercedes team. Mercedes dropped initial threats of an appeal, meaning the results stand, but an internal investigation by the World Council is ongoing. This comes after a new roster of judges were elected to the FIA’s international courts, including a NASCAR vice president, in an election year for the sport that could bring about key changes.

Indeed, at stake is not only Masi’s job but the race director position altogether. As only the second race director in the sport’s history, many within the FIA believe the position needs a refresh. That could include, according to Motorsport.com, anything from having multiple race directors or having the position rotate throughout the season, as well as having some decisions come remotely from F1 headquarters. FIA officials also want to expand the role of the stewards to overlap the race director responsibilities.

Masi’s continued job, even with the new system, is very much at risk. He’s been continually vilified through his tenure, which is understandable given his role. The farce of the championship finish, though, has sparked enough new criticism that the sport may be forced to fire him. Speaking to Gerhard Kuntschik of Autosport, FIA secretary general Peter Beyer said of Masi:

He has done a super job [and] we have told him that, but also that there is a possibility that there will be a new race director. I assured Michael of the federation’s backing in our discussions and let him know – we…need your understanding that we have to deal with the issue.”

Teams have suggested, though, that they would be fine with Masi remaining so long as changes are made to the system as a whole. That would include barriers to stop teams directly appealing to the race director mid-race, as Mercedes and Red Bull both did at the championship decider. Speaking to the BBC, Williams says it “does not believe it is for teams to decide F1 personal.” Critically, though, Mercedes did not comment, and as the aggrieved team, they are probably providing internal pressure.

To his defense, Masi’s supporters have pointed out that he was isolated and pressured to make quick decisions for the championship while facing pressure from the teams, and say new support structures should allow him to stay. As Lewis Hamilton hints at retirement though after his disappointment with the race, calls for a token firing are strong. New FIA president Mohammad Ben Sulayem has promised that he will act “in the sole interest of our sport,” but those interests might well include distancing from the now-controversial Michael Masi.

Saturday the FIA released a statement that seems to indicate there won’t be a final decision before March:

“At this stage, no decision has been taken on the outcome of thedetailed analysis currently underway into the events of the last Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“As previously announced, the findings of this detailed analysis will be presented at the F1 Commission meeting in London on 14 February after an open discussion with all F1 drivers and then finally have to be approved at the World Motor Sport Council meeting on 18 March in Bahrain, under the authority of FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem.”

Owen Johnson