Michael Masi is the biggest name in F1 at the moment, following the controversial decisions he made during the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – decisions which had a direct influence on the outcome of the 2021 Drivers' Championship.
The events of the race are, by now, well-documented. After Williams' Nicholas Latifi crashed his car with six laps to go, Masi opted for a Safety Car intervention rather than a red flag situation.
Given that Masi hasn't spoken publicly since Abu Dhabi, the logic behind his decisions hasn't been made clear. What is clear is that Masi felt the crash clean-up could be covered by the Safety Car and, once cleared, rushed the restart procedure. But it's important to point out that while Masi's decisions regarding the control of the Safety Car were controversial, they fundamentally didn't break the wording of the Sporting Regulations outright.
Indeed, it was Masi's attempt to keep everyone happy that has resulted in him landing in hot water in the first place. With Masi trying to stick to an unofficial rule regarding ending a race under green flag conditions, which McLaren's Zak Brown has since illuminated in greater clarity, it's this lack of transparency regarding the rule book that has triggered a full investigation of the events in Abu Dhabi under new FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem and his commission.
The report from this investigation is due for publishing on 18 March, the Friday of the season-opening race in Bahrain.
What has Masi done wrong?
Masi was thrown into the spotlight as he stepped into Charlie Whiting's huge shoes for the 2019 Australian Grand Prix, following the tragic and sudden passing of Whiting heading into the weekend.
With experience gathered at Whiting's side, as well as from Australian V8 Supercars, Masi took on the role full-time and has since set about establishing his authority and leadership of the governance over Grand Prix racing.
Largely, Masi's authority has been respected by the teams and drivers, but there have been questionable calls. Rising manhole covers at the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix raised eyebrows early on, while Masi starting the Q2 session in Turkey in 2020 with recovery vehicles still on track raised them even further.
But 2021 proved a stressful season for Masi, with constant sniping from all quarters due to inconsistent treatment of track limits at different circuits, different penalties for racing situations that meant incidents were seemingly judged on a case-by-case basis, as opposed to having the rules of engagement expressly spelt out, as well as the flashpoint of Abu Dhabi.
Those calls in Abu Dhabi resulted in Mercedes' Toto Wolff lashing out at Masi.
"I'm not interested in having a conversation with Michael Masi," Wolff said flatly when asked by media, including RacingNews365.com, whether he'd had any contact with the Race Director.
"The decisions that have been taken in the last four minutes of this race have robbed Lewis Hamilton of a deserved World Championship.
"That's why, from a personal and professional standpoint, my values and sense of integrity isn't compatible with the decisions made on Sunday."
Indeed, it was only after the FIA confirmed the establishment of a commission to investigate the events of Abu Dhabi that Mercedes called off the hounds of an appeal against the outcome.
"Masi only has one life left"
Understandably, Masi's calls weren't met with much criticism by Red Bull's top brass, although Helmut Marko did express a desire for consistent rules to be implemented.
"The new FIA president will have to come up with a new system that will help Masi, because he can't do it alone," Marko told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"At the moment there is too much pressure on his shoulders. I think, for example, that team managers and team bosses should no longer be able to speak to Masi through a direct line during a race.
"In addition, the rules need to be simplified. Too many decisions have been made that have displeased either us or Mercedes. There needs to be more uniformity in the judgements."
From 2022, F1's Ross Brawn has said that the voices in Masi's ear, ie. the likes of Wolff or Christian Horner, won't be permitted.
But can Masi survive the winter and get into 2022, given the FIA's investigation?
"He might be the sacrificial lamb," Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle said recently.
"If the FIA and F1 want Michael Masi to stay, and if Michael Masi wants to stay, he's clearly only got one life left. So I don't know if that's tenable all around.
"Who would you replace him with? Be careful what you wish for, I would say in this."
Eduardo Freitas, the World Endurance Championship Race Director for many years, is one possibility F1 could approach, as is Scott Elkins, the brand new DTM Race Director with a lot of experience in Formula 2 and Formula 3, and as reserve Race Director in Formula 1.
Niels Wittich, a former DTM Race Director and now Deputy Race Director in Formula 1, would be another option.
"What I absolutely know for sure is that changing Michael Masi will not fix the problem. This is way too big a job for one person to handle, in a 23-race season that's only going to grow," Brundle said.
Wolff calls for a complete revamp
With calm heads now prevailing more than a month on from Abu Dhabi, it appears as though Mercedes' faith in the FIA will be restored by clear actions taken as a result of the investigation.
Whether this means replacing Masi as a requirement isn't made clear and, certainly, Wolff isn't calling for Masi's head on a plate.
"I'm afraid it's not only a decision to change the Race Director – the whole system of decision-making needs to be improved," Wolff told media, including RacingNews365.com.
"I think that the Race Director is certainly under big pressure and some of that is due to our own faults.
"I would have wished [for] more consistent decision-making that could have avoided many of the controversies throughout the year.
"The last one [in Abu Dhabi] was just a decision that had the biggest impact. From a sporting perspective, [it had] a catastrophic impact, because it decided the World Championship.
"But now you can say all season [it] went back and forth. We were on the receiving end sometimes, and sometimes we were more lucky."
While the latest FIA update insinuated that the organisation of the governing body in relation to Grands Prix will be looked at, there hasn't been any stance taken regarding Masi – neither condemnation nor support.
Given his growing experience in the role, and the fact that he didn't actually fail to follow the Sporting Regulations, Masi may yet survive into 2022 provided that the rulebook is tightened up to prevent him from freestyling some of the rules. Would this be enough to dampen the flames?
"I have confidence that all of us together, the teams, the drivers, the FIA and the sport, can revamp the way decisions are being [made] and make the sport stronger," Wolff said.
"I think these situations, as painful as they are, are also an opportunity to better the sport."
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