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Conflict in F1 six weeks before the start of the new season?

As F1 gears up for a new era of competition, there are a whole host of questions to be answered. RacingNews365.com provides the latest on potential changes to the regulations, Michael Masi's position as Race Director and Lewis Hamilton's future...

With car launches on the horizon and pre-season testing fast approaching, there are several hot topics doing the rounds in Formula 1. What will the Sporting Regulations look like when the paddock sets up in Bahrain for the season-opener in six weeks' time? Will Michael Masi continue as Race Director after the drama in Abu Dhabi? And, in turn, will seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton call time on his illustrious career? RacingNews365.com 's Dieter Rencken addresses all of these matters - and runs through the key developments - in his latest analytical piece.

Sprint races under threat for 2022

Immediately after RacingNews365.com published the 2022 three-day weekend format explainer detailing 90-minute practice sessions, as per the latest set of 2022 regulations, namely Version 4 dated 30 April 2021, a number of teams took up contact to state 60-minute sessions were on the cards, but that various controversies, including disagreements over Sprint races, had delayed the updated set of regulations. Indeed, V4 did not detail formats for Sprint races – for good reason. Where F1 previously stated that six Sprints would be staged during 2022, a number of teams refused to approve them unless additional allowances (for wear and damages) were provided for under the ($140m) budget cap. However, RacingNews365.com understands the FIA refuses to budge on the cap, resulting in an impasse. Simply put, unless one or other party is prepared to yield, there will be no Sprint Qualifying sessions. Last year, F1 overcame similar objections, but these were sorted through a financial sleight of hand in order to facilitate trialling the concept. According to sources, the FIA is now, though, adamant no such concessions will be permitted this year, particularly as last year's $145m cap was reduced by $5m to $140m in order to save costs. Raising the cap runs counter to that philosophy. It is, after all, possible to operate under the cap, as a number of teams have proven.

What about Masi's future as Race Director?

Another flashpoint is understood to be the fate of Race Director Michael Masi. The word from F1 towers is that F1 Sporting Director Steve Nielsen was under consideration to replace Masi. However, this could potentially have caused issues at EU Commission level after the statutory body ratified the commercial rights deal provided regulatory and commercial powers are distinctly separated – and such an appointment could be in breach of that agreement. As an aside, last year F1 transferred its full technical team to the FIA, with a source at the time saying, "With the new era regulation sorted, their job was done", but RacingNews365.com understands there were legal rather than organisational concerns. If, after all, their work "was done", why did the FIA add them to the payroll? Although a number of teams - including, obviously, Mercedes - called for Masi's dismissal, others see no alternative to the man and still others believe he should be given a second shot, albeit with improved support and fewer peripheral activities such as sporting commission duties and circuit inspections. In addition, new FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem is adamant the governing body will not be dictated to by any team(s). That Masi is unlikely to be dismissed is clear from the timeline of the FIA investigation into the Abu Dhabi debacle. Although details from last week's Sporting Advisory Committee are sparse, it is understood Safety Car deployment regulations were discussed and not the fate of Masi, who actually chaired the meeting. That is, in itself, most telling…

A lot of questions to be answered before Bahrain

The next discussion opportunity is the F1 Commission meeting - which has no regulatory powers unless proposals are subsequently FIA ratified - scheduled for 14 February. Thereafter F1 faces a long wait until a final decision is announced by the World Motor Sport Council meeting in Bahrain on 18 March – saliently, officially the opening day of the new season… This means Lewis Hamilton, who steadfastly maintained radio silence since the incident, will need to show his hand without knowing the outcome of the investigation; it equally complicates matters for the FIA as the governing body will need to stick with Masi (for that morning, at least) or take decisions outside of their own investigative timeline, potentially leaving them open to legal action – ironically, after Mercedes dropped their plans. There seem to be no easy solutions in sight, and the best prognosis as matters stand at present is: Practice sessions will be reduced from 90 minutes to 60-minute duration, freeing up three times 30 minutes during what are already compact race weekends. Sprint events are unlikely to be staged; if so, reduced in number from the six scheduled to around three. Masi will remain Race Director for a year at least, but with two deputies and a remote race support function similar to the remote garages and mission control centres operated by the teams. Another alternative is to rotate Race Director duties amongst three officials, with two relegated to support functions for that weekend. As for Hamilton, who knows?

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