Abu Dhabi, Feb. 17: Michael Masi will no longer serve as Formula One race director following a "detailed analysis" of last year's controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Masi's call to unlap cars between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen to permit one lap of racing, allowing the Red Bull superstar to snatch the title, was widely criticised and has resulted in his removal from his role.
But that is not the only change to be introduced in 2022 as part of an "in-depth reform of the organisation of refereeing and race direction", which was presented on Thursday by FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem.
As the FIA aims to move on from an episode that marred one of the greatest seasons in F1 history, Ben Sulayem outlined four key areas for reform.
"These changes will enable us to start the 2022 Formula One season in the best conditions, and our sport will be even more loved and respected," he said.
But what are these changes – billed as offering a "new step forward in Formula One refereeing" – and why have they been made?
VAR IN F1
As well as to ensure competition rules are enforced, these changes have been made to ease the pressure on the race director.
Masi's decision was all about an interpretation of the regulations, rather than an error based on an absence of technology, but Ben Sulayem feels the race director moving forward will benefit from additional support.
For this reason, a "virtual race control room" will be created to "assist the race director in the decision-making process".
"In real-time connection with the FIA F1 race director, it will help to apply the sporting regulations using the most modern technological tools," Ben Sulayem said.
If this sounds like football's VAR being introduced to F1, the FIA thinks so too. In his speech on Thursday, Ben Sulayem drew parallels with VAR, which operates outside of stadiums but assists match referees. The virtual race control room will similarly be positioned away from the circuit at FIA offices.
RADIO EXCHANGES TAKEN OFF THE AIR
In the aftermath of the Abu Dhabi GP, as F1 fans on both sides of the title divide raged, Masi was not helped by the official broadcast.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff fumed at Masi's decision to expose Hamilton, and Masi replied: "Toto, it's called a motor race, okay?"
This conversation, as with numerous exchanges throughout races, was relayed to those watching on television.
Leaked footage in recent weeks has suggested Red Bull implored Masi to make that judgement, using the same term in asking for "a motor race".
This conversation was not actually heard at the time, but Masi certainly did not benefit from being on display to the world as he made the biggest call of his career.
These direct radio communications will no longer be broadcast, Ben Sulayem revealed, "to protect the race director from any pressure and allow him to take decisions peacefully".
"It will still be possible to ask questions to the race director, according to a well-defined and non-intrusive process," the FIA president added.
How it started how it’s going
Took a few days to let what happened last Sunday sink in. Thank you to everyone for all your support and kind messages pic.twitter.com/i2kplMU4NY— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) December 14, 2021
UNLAPPING RULE TO BE REASSESSED
Part of the difficulty in Abu Dhabi was that even seasoned F1 watchers were unsure if Masi had acted correctly. Red Bull clearly thought he had done; Mercedes, unsurprisingly, disagreed.
Should a similar scenario arise again, the FIA would hope its race director would have a clear idea of the process.
"Unlapping procedures behind safety car will be reassessed by the F1 sporting advisory committee and presented to the next F1 commission prior to the start of the season," Ben Sulayem said.
MASI OUT AND REPLACED BY TWO
Masi will be offered a role elsewhere in the FIA after he "accomplished a very challenging job" across three years, but rather than being replaced by a single new race director, the governing body is putting in place "a new race management team".
Masi had endured a draining season even before the Abu Dhabi drama, and the load will be shared moving forward.
Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, the two race directors, will act alternately, supported by a permanent senior advisor in Herbie Blash.
With multiple officials now overseeing the 2022 title race, the FIA will hope for less scrutiny of any one individual. The focus on Masi alone at such a crucial stage last year was surely hugely unhelpful.