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F1 will not go back to one race director, says FIA president

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has suggested that Formula 1 will keep having multiple race directors in the future, following the change of approach for 2022.

Eduardo Freitas, Race Director, FIA, Niels Wittich, Race Director, FIA

In the wake of the controversy over former F1 race director Michael Masi’s handling of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the FIA overhauled the way that grand prix events were run last season.

Rather than having a single race director, the FIA shared out the role last year – with Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas dividing up the F1 season between them.

However, from the Japanese Grand Prix, after an investigation on why a crane was released on to the live track, the FIA elected to stick with just Wittich through to the end of the campaign.

The idea of splitting responsibilities did not prove universally popular, with drivers and teams suggesting that having different people as race director meant there was a lack of consistency in processes and decisions.

GPDA director George Russell spoke for other drivers when he said that they: “Believe that having the rotation isn't the best thing for a sport, for that consistency.

“We've never had a steward from a previous event at the following race to talk about any certain decisions, I believe.”

But rather than go back to a system of installing a single race director, Ben Sulayem thinks it is essential for the governing body to have multiple people involved to ensure there is a smooth transition should a problem occur with the incumbent.

Asked about potential change to F1 race directors for 2023 during a media briefing at the Dakar Rally, Ben Sulayem said: “There is a process now and I have a team who is going through a proper process and training for stewarding, and for race directors.

“You cannot just have one race director and rely on them. I see that we should prepare the second role. We cannot rely in the biggest discipline that we have, or any other discipline.

“What if something happened? If we are going to sustain motorsport, we have to be ready with training.”

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President FIA

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President FIA

Photo by: A.S.O.

Ben Sulayem has reiterated his belief that there are many talented officials operating at grassroots level who could go on to help manage F1 races.

“I am a big believer that there is, somewhere in the world, better race directors than anyone, better stewards,” he said. “Now we are reaching to the ASNs and we are asking them to send us people for the training, and we have a proper team now for the training. You will get good [officials]. I promise this.”

Masi did not want to stay

Ben Sulayem took over as president of the FIA in December 2021, just days after the controversial finish to that year’s F1 world championship in Abu Dhabi.

As part of a review of events, the FIA parted ways with Masi, although some have questioned if the Australian was made a scapegoat for weaknesses elsewhere in the governing body’s infrastructure.

Asked about why Masi did not remain at the FIA, Ben Sulayem suggested that the split was not exclusively down to the governing body.

“It was also his choice,” he said. “I’d been talking to him at the beginning. There were human errors there, and I felt that he also wanted to just not go further, because of what he got from the social media, the toxic social media. I spoke to him, and it was unfair also for him. The FIA was always supportive.

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“This is the same thing that’s happening to Silvia [Bellot, FIA steward], again to some of our members: threats. I got some threats also, to reverse the results, but I didn’t take them seriously.

“But now we stand against the toxic social media that will affect our sport. I am a big believer that if we don’t take a stand, we might find the damage will be beyond repair for our sport in the future.”

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