Alonso v Haas mess causes search for new F1 race directors

F1 could be set for two new race directors less than a year after Michael Masi’s replacements were installed as part of a restructure at the FIA. 
(L to R): Niels Wittich (GER) FIA F1 Race Director and Eduardo Freitas (POR) FIA Race Director. Formula 1 World
(L to R): Niels Wittich (GER) FIA F1 Race Director and Eduardo Freitas …

Masi was removed from his position as F1 race director in the wake of the controversial 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, in which his mishandling of a Safety Car period altered the outcome of the race and the world championship, denying Lewis Hamilton a record-breaking eighth world title, and enabling Max Verstappen to claim his first drivers’ crown. 

Under a series of changes implemented by new FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, both experienced race directors in the DTM German Touring Car Championship and the World Endurance Championship respectively, were brought in to alternate the role previously held by Masi during the 2022 season. 

Remote video URL

Inconsistent officiating continued to frustrate the drivers throughout last season, and two highly-controversial incidents appear to have proven the downfall of Wittich and Freitas, at least according to a report in Spanish media. 

The first came at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, where Pierre Gasly’s near-miss with a recovery vehicle prompted outrage among the drivers. That incident happened under Freitas’ watch and he was absent from the remaining four races.

The second occurred at the United States Grand Prix and involved a contentious penalty that was awarded to Fernando Alonso following a post-race protest made by Haas. 

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB18 leads as Lance Stroll (CDN) Aston Martin F1 Team AMR22 and Fernando Alonso (ESP)
Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB18 leads as Lance Stroll (CDN)…

Despite the FIA initially ruling that Alpine’s appeal was not admissible, Alpine asked for a right of review, citing new evidence, and successfully saw Alonso’s seventh place finish reinstated. 

MARCA reports that along with Freitas, Wittich, who oversaw proceedings at Austin, may not return to F1 this season. 

According to the report, Wittich wrongly informed Haas that they had an additional hour to file their claim, when the regulation states a 30-minute deadline. The time of Haas’ protest was the point of contention that Alpine ultimately used to prevail in their own appeal.

Asked whether F1’s current race directors would continue in their position for 2023 during an appearance at the Dakar Rally, Ben Sulayem is quoted by MARCA as saying: “No. 

"There is a process underway. We have a team working on the training of curators and race directors. 

“You can't have only one [director] I think we have to have a second option. We can't trust each other because what if something happens? We have to be prepared for any contingency if we want to strengthen our sport. 

“I always believe that in the world there is someone better, a better race director... Our team is training them and I promise you, and you are recording me, that we will have them.” 

Mohammed Bin Sulayem (UAE) FIA President with Jo Bauer (GER) FIA Delegate (Right). Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 22,
Mohammed Bin Sulayem (UAE) FIA President with Jo Bauer (GER) FIA Delegate …

Ben Sulayem was also asked why Masi left the FIA completely last year. 

"It was his choice,” he explained. "There are human mistakes and he didn't want to continue.

“When he received the threats on social media, I talked to him and told him that it was unfair and that the FIA would support him. It is the same thing that happened to Silvia [Bellot] or to another of our people. 

“I myself was threatened to change the result [of Abu Dhabi 2021]. We have to be firm so that social networks do not endanger the future of our sport.”

Read More