FIA introduce VAR-style race direction method after Michael Masi sacking

The governing body of Formula 1, the FIA, have released a detailed statement confirming that Michael Masi will no longer act as F1 race director.

There have been persistent rumours over Masi’s future since the controversial finish to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. A chain of decisions from the now-former race director resulted in Max Verstappen overtaking Lewis Hamilton on the last lap to win the Drivers’ Championship.

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Hamilton’s team, Mercedes, protested the result. They cited two areas of the sporting regulations which they argued had not been followed correctly.

The team later withdrew their protests. However, that was only on the basis that the FIA would introduce greater clarity on race processes and decisions in the future.

Hamilton almost won what would have been a record-breaking eighth F1 world championship. As it stands, his tally of seven ties with the legendary Michael Schumacher.

What decisions were protested?

The two main protests by Mercedes were in line with the FIA sporting regulations.

One rule states that ‘any cars who have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car’. However, when Masi elected to let lapped cars through before the restart, not all cars were given the go-ahead to overtake.

The code also states that ‘once the last lapped car has passed the leader, the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap’. However, in Abu Dhabi, the safety car returned to the pits at the end of the current lap.

The unlapping procedure was a crucial part of the FIA meeting this week.

The third protest claimed that Verstappen was overtaking under the safety car. However, that appeal was quickly thrown out.

What have the FIA changed?

In a speech made on Thursday, the FIA confirmed that Michael Masi will no longer be the F1 race director. He will receive an offer of a different position within the FIA.

Replacing Masi will be two new race directors. Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas will act alternatively. Herbie Blash, meanwhile, returns as a permanent senior advisor.

The FIA president, Mohamed Ben Sulayem, has proposed several key changes to how Formula 1 refereeing will work. The main notable difference is the creation of a VAR-style system for assisting the race director.

He explained: “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. In real-time connection with the FIA F1 race director, it will help to apply the sporting regulations using the most modern technological tools.”

What else is set to change?

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Direct radio communications to the race director will now be removed. In 2021, the feature gave fans a greater insight into the sport. However, some fans were critical. This was mainly due to the fierce conversations between teams and Masi.

F1TV published audio between Red Bull team manager Jonathan Wheatley and Masi during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Wheatley can be heard telling Masi he can allow lapped cars to overtake for the race to restart. This was met by anger from F1 fans.

Read: “Shocking” footage shows Red Bull and Masi conversations during Abu Dhabi F1 finale

Teams can, however, still communicate with the race director. But they must do so in a “well-defined and non-intrusive process”.

Finally, the FIA will review the unlapping procedures between the safety car. Those changes will be proposed before the beginning of the new season.

The 2022 F1 season begins in Bahrain on March 20. The cars will compete over a 23-race season.

Featured Image Credit: Getty