Michael Masi has been removed as Formula One race director over his management of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year which led to Max Verstappen being controversially crowned world champion.
Masi was heavily criticised for the sequence of events that led to Verstappen passing Lewis Hamilton to deprive the Briton of a record eighth title.
“Michael Masi, who accomplished a very challenging job for three years as Formula 1 race director following Charlie Whiting, will be offered a new position within the FIA,” read a statement by FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem.
“Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas will act alternatively as Race Director, assisted by Herbie Blash (formerly deputy under Whiting) as permanent senior advisor.”
Masi’s removal – which comes just three years since he was appointed following the death of Whiting prior to the 2019 campaign – elicited sympathy for the Australian official from Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc.
“I have a lot of respect for Michael for what he has done,” said Leclerc at the launch of his car for the 2022 season on Thursday.
“He had a difficult job, especially in Abu Dhabi.
“Whatever happened it was always going to be controversial. But the FIA has made a decision, has a lot more info and I fully trust it is the right decision.”
Sulayem also announced that measures will be introduced to ease the pressure on the race director.
“Firstly, to assist the race director in the decision-making process, a Virtual Race Control Room will be created. Alike the Video Assistance Referee (VAR) in football, it will be positioned in one of the FIA offices as a backup outside the circuit,” said Sulayem.
“In real-time connection with the FIA F1 race director, it will help to apply the sporting regulations using the most modern technological tools.”
Sulayem said the mode of communicating with the race director would be different from now on.
“Direct radio communications during the race, currently broadcast live by all TVs, will be removed in order to protect the race director from any pressure and allow him to take decisions peacefully.
“It will still be possible to ask questions to the race director, according to a well-defined and non-intrusive process.”
Unlapping rules to be ‘reassessed’
Masi had been heavily panned after calling in the safety car for the final lap, then controversially allowing the backmarkers between race leader Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves.
That led to a one lap shoot-out between Hamilton and Verstappen, who with fresh tyres had a huge advantage and he exploited it to stunning effect when he picked Hamilton off to seal the title.
Sulayem said that these rules regarding unlapping would be addressed.
“Unlapping procedures behind safety car will be reassessed by the F1 Sporting Advisory Committee and presented to the next F1 Commission prior to the start of the season.”
An FIA spokesman told the BBC the report into the failings at Abu Dhabi would be published at the season-opening race in Bahrain on March 19.
Mercedes and Red Bull both put pressure on Masi to make decisions which would have helped their driver. The former were left incensed as they believed Masi followed their rivals’ suggestions.
The team made two immediate protests, both of which were rejected.
Hamilton, while graceful in defeat, had made his feelings all too clear when passed by his Dutch arch rival, saying on his team radio: “This has been manipulated man.”
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff raised the possibility that the 37-year-old Briton might even walk away from the sport.
Wolff claimed a “disillusioned” Hamilton would “never get over” the Abu Dhabi conclusion.
Both boycotted the end-of-season gala dinner at the FIA’s Paris headquarters where Verstappen was duly anointed as the world champion.
Mercedes launch their car for the 2022 season, which marks the start of F1’s revamped technical era, on Friday.
Teams will put their cars through their paces in pre-season testing in Barcelona over three days starting next Wednesday, with the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on March 20.