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Why Michael Masi’s dismissal wasn’t the best option

The dust is still settling in the aftermath of Michael Masi being removed from his post of Formula 1 Race Director.

There is no doubt that many people have an opinion of the events in Abu Dhabi last year and the announcement of Michael Masi’s dismissal as F1 Race Director. This announcement raises a few important points, things which I think are crucial in discussing for the future of the sport. So like with many people around the globe, here is my opinion.

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Firstly, it was an inevitability that this decision would be made. This entire saga has been filled with confusion from the very start. I thought that sitting up at 4 in the morning watching the Abu Dhabi post race coverage on my laptop and I still think that now. Such was the controversy of this matter that it was obvious that there was really only one person who was the literal face of the issue, Michael Masi. As per the decision by the FIA, the thought was – get rid of him and the problem goes away.

But this was not the only change that was made. In addition to Masi being replaced, there is a new VAR system for F1 to be introduced this coming year and F1 team radio messages to the Race Director will no longer be broadcast. Finally, the Race Director role will be expanded as of the commencement of F1 testing in Barcelona to three people – Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas to act alternatively as the race director, assisted by Herbie Blash as a permanent senior advisor.

By announcing this, the FIA are basically saying that the role of Race Director is essentially a three person job. If, like Masi, you are essentially doing the job of three people – managing an F1 race, being on the single seat commission and flying around the world making sure that all tracks are up to scratch – then of course someone might struggle. This indicates some deep structural issues within the system. How can one person be expected to do everything required of the job (which included having F1, the FIA, drivers, all 10 teams including the might of Mercedes and Red Bull, plus the motorsport community all bickering over every move you make) when he is being forced to fall on his sword when being replaced by three people?

This is not to mention that he was thrust into this role in a matter of minutes when Charlie Whiting, Masi’s friend and mentor passed away days before the 2019 Australian Grand Prix. This meant that Masi was learning in real time the job, going race by race, where there was little to no support and plenty of criticism if you got it wrong. As it turns out, Masi didn’t really have a chance. It was only a matter of time until something went wrong. When it did, it was spectacular.

Picture: Getty Images

Mistakes were made, that is abundantly clear, not just in Abu Dhabi but throughout the last few years. But that is to be expected when there are issues with management. He was working in an environment where there was basically no support, no help or guidance and plenty of people looking for an excuse to pile on the ridicule.

You don’t become the Formula 1 Race Director by not knowing what you are doing. He has been an important part of Race Control for many many years in both Supercars and in Formula 1 and as a fellow Aussie, it is sad to see him go from the absolute high to this absolute low.

Instead of him being moved along, I would have liked him to stay in the role with this extra support given his experience in the role, especially given the trial by fire (and COVID) that he received. Masi is only one of two people to hold the title of F1 Race Director since 1997 and that experience is valuable. Before you dismiss that, think what you might have been able to do in that situation – an extremely unique set of circumstances, all put together to create absolute chaos. Try not to freeze when you have Toto Wolff and Christian Horner down your throat on the radio when split crucial second decisions are required and it is make or break time. Two words. Good luck.

So while Masi going may have been the only option, I still think that there may have been better more logical alternatives. In saying that, I do understand why the FIA made the decision. They had no choice because it was an image problem. It was politics. You have to please the most people, and that should not be the aim.

In the end, Masi will likely still be with the FIA but just in another role. That is if he takes that up. If that is the case, hopefully his experience won’t be wasted. Is he now a polarising figure to many F1 fans? Without doubt. Is the 2021 championship tarnished? That depends on who you ask. But in my opinion, giving him the flick from Race Control wasn’t the right option. It was the easy option.

And another thing…

On another note, this whole Abu Dhabi saga, along with what was basically the entire 2021 F1 season, was a great case study for just how cruel people can be. Race fans in the comment sections of social media were brutal towards each other. This included the apparent rivalry between the people who supported Max Verstappen fighting people who supported Lewis Hamilton and vise versa, along with people generally just arguing with one another on particular events that had happened throughout and after the season. It felt like it was a great opportunity to have a go at fellow motorsport fans and simply, that is not okay. People can have discussions, and even structured arguments, but don’t insult anyone.

We all love this sport, and no one should be belittled for supporting who they like. Nicholas Latifi was the recipient of abuse including death threats for his role in bringing out the infamous Safety Car that caused all this commotion. Verstappen likewise has been ridiculed for his role, despite playing no part in the decision and doing what all racing drivers do (and is paid for), which is try to win.

Photo Take from F1 reddit

And of course, there is Masi, who has received the most criticism, and whether you think that is justified or not, remember that he is human. All of the drivers are human, the stewards are human, the teams are all human and all of the fans are human. We can make mistakes, and no one should be told that they are worthless, regardless of the mistake they make. If anyone needs support right now, it is Masi. From his point of view, he had what felt like the entire world barracking for him to lose his purpose in life when it was the system that was failing the sport. No one, absolutely no one, deserves to feel that way. Not when you are just trying to succeed the best you can.

The lesson here is that sitting behind a screen and a computer is easy. Everyone in Formula 1 is there to put on a great race for us to watch and it is tough. Just be respectful.

It is now 2022. Last year is done. We start off fresh with 23 rounds where all 20 drivers are now driving 20 of the beautiful new generation cars. Let’s enjoy it for what it is. A new era of Formula 1.

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