F1 and the FIA have been criticized for chaotic handling of the final laps of last year’s Abu Dhabi GP which kicked off the investigation led by new Federation President Mohammed Ben Sulayem over the winter.
The result saw Michael Masi replaced as race director by fellow WEC Eduardo Freitas and former DTM race director Niels Wittich alternating in the role, while former deputy race director Herbie Blash was named senior advisor.
Blash acted as former F1 race director Charlie Whiting’s right-hand man until leaving the role of deputy race director at the end of the 2016 season. Since then, Blash has worked as a consultant for Yamaha on its World Superbike program.
Further changes to race control will be adopted this year with the introduction of remote assistance by an off-site FIA facility that has been compared to VAR in football.
The radio communication between the teams and the referee will no longer be broadcast on TV, while the doubling procedure under the safety car will be revised.
Who are Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich?
Race Director Eduardo Freitas
Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images
Just like former F1 race director Charlie Whiting, Eduardo Freitas began his motorsport career as a mechanic, first with a passion for motorcycles and then transitioned to the world of karting in 1979.
The Portuguese progressed from the role of track commissioner to becoming a race director in karting.
Freitas was working as a race director at Estoril in 2002 when he was asked to follow the FIA GT and ETCC championships for one season and remained in that role until the end of 2009.
The FIA then promoted Freitas to the FIA GT1 World Championship before becoming race director for the World Endurance Championship in 2012. He is also race director in the European Le Mans Series and Asian Le Mans Series.
Lucas Auer, Mercedes AMG Team Winward, Niels Wittich, Race director
Photo by: Gruppe C GmbH
Niels Wittich is the former race director of the DTM having stepped down from the role at the end of 2021 when he was already in the process of moving to F1 for 2022 as support for Michael Masi.
The German had previously been appointed race director for the FIA F2 and F3 championships, while he supported the F1 race director in some events.
Why did Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich replace Michael Masi?
The new president of the FIA Mohammed ben Sulayem, who was elected to replace the outgoing Jean Todt a few days after the Abu Dhabi GP, and one of his first commitments was to start the investigation on the final race of the F1 season and implement the change brought about by the results.
Ben Sulayem announced that Masi would be replaced as F1 race director after generating a chaotic situation in Abu Dhabi when he allowed only the lapped cars between title contenders, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, to split creating a surrender of the count in the final lap that saw the Dutch driver win his first F1 world title.
This decision seemed to contradict all previous restart procedures whereby either all lapped cars could split or none of them could, while the race started even before the end of the lap in which the cars were allowed to pass the leaders. as indicated in the F1 regulations. Had this rule been followed, the race would have ended behind the safety car with Hamilton ahead of Verstappen and thus the Englishman would have been the 2021 F1 world champion.
As part of the Abu Dhabi GP investigation analysis, Ben Sulayem found it necessary to replace Masi with Freitas and Wittich who will share the role of F1 race director.
Michael Masi, race director, walks the track with a colleague from the FIA
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
What experience do they have in motorsport?
Eduardo Freitas has been the ubiquitous race director in the World Endurance Championship since the first race in March 2012. He has handled every WEC event, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and has over 40 years of motorsport experience.
Niels Wittich was recently the race director of the DTM, while he also worked as part of the F1 race control team in several events in 2021.
Have they worked in F1 before?
Freitas has not worked directly in F1 previously, but has worked alongside both Michael Masi and his predecessor Charlie Whiting in FIA conferences and race directors’ meetings at the governing body, including the 2020 Portuguese Grand Prix in Portimao.
Wittich was on duty in several F1 races in 2021 supporting Michael Masi and was approached to offer him a permanent role for 2022 ahead of the Abu Dhabi GP investigation.
What will change in Formula 1?
Michael Masi will no longer be responsible for the Formula 1 races. The role will be shared by Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich with the assistance of Herbie Blash who will have the role of senior consultant starting from the pre-season tests in Barcelona on 23-25 February. .
Race control will also have remote assistance from an off-site FIA facility that will assist the race director on decisions from a Virtual Race Control Room. He will have a real-time connection with the F1 race director and help him enforce the sporting regulations.
Direct radio communications during track sessions between teams and the referee will be limited and not broadcast on TV, but teams will still be able to ask the referee questions according to a new non-invasive process.
The splitting procedures behind the safety car during F1 races will also be reviewed and presented to the next F1 Commission.
What will happen to Michael Masi?
Michael Masi has been offered a new position within the FIA, but will not be involved in F1 race direction. The new role offered to Masi is expected to be a security role.
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