Who is Michael Masi and what's the role of a Formula 1 race director?

Formula 1 race director Michael Masi has come under fire following the controversial end to the 2021 F1 season, but who is he and what's the race director job?

Who is Michael Masi and what's the role of a Formula 1 race director?

FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi has been in the headlines since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after the controversial end to the race saw Max Verstappen pip Lewis Hamilton to the 2021 F1 world championship, but what is the race director job and how long has he been doing it for?

Who is Michael Masi?

Australian Michael Masi is the FIA’s Formula 1 race director, and as such he acts as referee on grand prix weekends and oversees the safe running of track activities. In addition he is the F1 safety delegate, and thus plays a role in a variety of areas, including the inspection of circuits and passing them fit for use. He is also closely involved in the writing of the FIA F1 sporting regulations.

What experience did he have before F1?

Prior to coming to F1 Masi gained experience of the sport in a variety of roles in Australia, primarily in and around the popular Supercars category. His first live experience of F1 came as a young spectator at the 1992 Australian GP in Adelaide. He had uncles who competed in club racing, and in his teens he worked for teams in the Super Touring series. From 2003 he worked for TEGA, the TouringCar Entrants Group Australia organisation, which developed into an operational role with the Supercars series. He gained his first experience of working alongside stewards and in race control in the category.

In 2008 he was headhunted by CAMS, the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport, and via that role helped with the setting up of the first grands prix in Singapore in 2008 and Korea in 2010, supervising the training of local officials. He was also involved in karting and rallying in Australia. He returned to the Supercars organisation in 2012, and in 2015 he became deputy race director of the series, a position he held for four years before switching his focus to F1.

Andreas Seidl Team Principal, McLaren F1 with F1 Race Director Michael Masi

Andreas Seidl Team Principal, McLaren F1 with F1 Race Director Michael Masi

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

How long has Michael Masi been F1 race director?

The F1 race director role was held by the legendary Charlie Whiting from the early 1990s, with Herbie Blash serving as his deputy. After Blash retired Frenchman and former Toro Rosso engineer Laurent Mekies served as deputy – before making a surprise return to a team role with Ferrari. Whiting needed a deputy for the 2018 season, and asked Masi and Formula E race director Scott Elkins to share the job that year. Having worked at nine races in 2018 Masi was then lined up to continue as F1 deputy for a similar number of races in 2019, as well being the permanent deputy for F2 and F3. Sadly Whiting died on the eve of the first race of the 2019 season in Australia. Masi stepped in to cover the main role for the Melbourne weekend, and was subsequently retained for the rest of that year. From January 2020 he was officially given the job on a full-time basis.

What is the F1 race director’s job?

On grand prix weekends Masi has overall responsibility for race control, and is in direct charge of many areas including stopping races with a red flag, the use of safety cars and virtual safety cars, and the use of black and white warning flags. He also makes calls on issues such as how track limits are monitored at each circuit. However he does not rule on punishments – that is the job of the panel of four stewards, which includes one ex-racing driver. Typically Masi refers an incident to the stewards, who decide whether it is worthy of investigation, conduct that full investigation if necessary, deem whether an offence has been committed, and then confirm any penalty. He also communicates with the marshals around the track via the clerk of the course, who is the top local official. After each race Masi reviews the weekend’s activities and makes suggestions for possible improvements.

Michael Masi, Race Director and Stefano Domenicali, CEO, Formula 1

Michael Masi, Race Director and Stefano Domenicali, CEO, Formula 1

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

How does the race director communicate with the drivers and teams?

Masi’s main formal contact with the F1 drivers is in the online post-practice briefing that takes place on the Friday evening of each race weekend, although the drivers are free to meet him informally at other times. He has a formal link to each team via one designated representative who usually carries the title of sporting director or team manager.

The sporting directors also have their own regular meetings with Masi on the Thursday of race weekends, before action gets underway, but can meet or contact him at any time when issues arise. Masi also often communicates with the sporting directors via radio during races, typically on matters such as drivers gaining an advantage by going off track. He can advise teams to tell their driver to give a place back in order to avoid penalty, while they can ask him questions or make points on behalf of their teams. Those radio messages have been played on the world feed for the first time in 2021. Such broadcasts have revealed that team principals occasionally contact Masi directly.

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