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Who are Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich, and why are they replacing Michael Masi in F1?

After the FIA investigation into the controversial finish to Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, sweeping changes will be made headlined by the departure of Michael Masi as race director.

Michael Masi, Race Director

Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

F1 and the FIA came in for criticism about how the final laps were handled at the last year’s season finale, which triggered the investigation led by new FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem over the winter.

The outcome sees Masi replaced as F1 race director by WEC race director Eduardo Freitas and former DTM race director Niels Wittich who will alternate the role, while former deputy race director Herbie Blash has been appointed as a senior advisor.

Blash acted as former F1 race director Charlie Whiting’s right-hand man until leaving the role as deputy race director at the end of the 2016 season. Since then, Blash has worked as a consultant to Yamaha on its World Superbike programme.

Further changes to race control will also be installed this year, with remote assistance from an off-site FIA facility which has been likened to the video assistant referee (VAR) in football.

Radio communication between teams and race control will also no longer be broadcast, while the unlapping procedure under a safety car will be reviewed.

Who are Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich?

Eduardo Freitas (right) has been a long-time race director in WEC

Eduardo Freitas (right) has been a long-time race director in WEC

Eduardo Freitas

Much like former F1 race director Charlie Whiting, Eduardo Freitas began his motorsport career as a mechanic, first with a passion for motorcycles before moving into the world of karting in 1979.

The Portuguese progressed from a track marshal up the ranks until he became a race director in karting.

Freitas was working as clerk of the course at Estoril in 2002 when he was asked to take charge of the FIA GT and ETCC championships for a season and he remained in that role until the end of 2009.

The FIA then promoted Freitas to the FIA GT1 world championship before he became race director for the World Endurance Championship in 2012. He also acts as race director in the European Le Mans Series and Asian Le Mans Series.

Niels Wittich

Niels Wittich is the former race director of the DTM series, having stepped down from the role at the end of 2021, when he was already set to move to F1 for 2022 on a full-time basis as support to Michael Masi.

The German had previously been named as race director for the FIA F2 and F3 championships, while supporting the F1 race director at certain events.

Niels Wittich (right) talks to Lucas Auer

Niels Wittich (right) talks to Lucas Auer

Photo by: Gruppe C GmbH

Why are Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich replacing Michael Masi?

New FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem, who was elected to replace the outgoing Jean Todt just days after the Abu Dhabi GP, made one of his first pledges to investigate the F1 race and enact change determined by the findings.

Ben Sulayem announced Masi would be replaced as F1 race director after his role in the Abu Dhabi finale, when he allowed only the lapped cars between the title fighters Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen to unlap themselves, setting up a final-lap showdown that the Dutch driver won to clinch his maiden F1 world title.

It appeared to contradict all previous safety care restart procedures, either letting all the lapped cars unlap themselves or none of them, while the race also started before the end of the lap the cars were permitted to pass the leaders as stated in the F1 rulebook. If that rule had been followed the race would have finished behind the safety car with Hamilton ahead of Verstappen and therefore 2021 F1 world champion.

As part of the analysis from the Abu Dhabi GP investigation, Ben Sulayem saw it necessary to replace Masi with Freitas and Wittich who will share the role of F1 race director.

What experience do they have in motorsport?

Eduardo Freitas

Eduardo Freitas has been the ever-present race director in the World Endurance Championship since its first race in its current inception in March 2012. He has taken charge of every WEC event, including the Le Mans 24 Hours, while he has over 40 years of experience in motorsport.

Niels Wittich

Niels Wittich was most recently the DTM race director while he also worked as part of the F1 race control team at several events in 2021.

Have they worked in F1 before?

Eduardo Freitas

Freitas hasn’t worked directly in F1 previously, but has worked alongside both Michael Masi and his predecessor Charlie Whiting in FIA conferences and race director meetings at the governing body, including the 2020 Portuguese Grand Prix at Portimao.

Niels Wittich

Wittich was on duty at several F1 races in 2021 as support to Michael Masi and was set to make the role permanent for 2022 before the Abu Dhabi GP investigation.

Michael Masi, Race Director

Michael Masi, Race Director

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

What will change in Formula 1?

Michael Masi will no longer be in charge of Formula 1 races. Instead the role will be shared by Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich, with assistance from Herbie Blash who will hold a senior advisor role, starting from the pre-season Barcelona test on 23-25 February.

Race control will also be given remote assistance from an off-site FIA facility which will assist the race director on decisions from a Virtual Race Control Room. It will have real-time connection to the F1 race director and help apply the sporting regulations.

Direct radio communications during track sessions between teams and the race director will be restricted and not broadcast on TV, but teams will still be able to ask questions to the race director under a new non-intrusive process.

The unlapping procedures behind a safety car during F1 races will also be reviewed by the F1 sporting advisor committee 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 the F1 race direction set-up. It is thought the new role offered to Masi will be a safety role.

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