After much deliberation, the FIA finally confirmed the departure of former Formula 1 Race Director Michael Masi. The Australian was at the center of the season-ending controversy in Abu Dhabi, where Max Verstappen ultimately pipped Lewis Hamilton to the 2021 Drivers’ Championship thanks in part to Masi’s decision to waive certain lapped cars through prior to the final lap of the race.
While his decision provided fans with a spectacle to round out what was an incredible season of racing, the Australian’s interpretation of the rules has come under fire with his decision dominating headlines well into the off-season.
Given the situation, the FIA made the decision to relieve Masi of his duties and has replaced him with Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas who will share the role and alternate their duties between races. The a pair will also work with Herbie Blash, who will return to the sport after a five year hiatus as a senior advisor.
“A new race management team will be put in place starting in Barcelona for the test session,” newly appointed FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem said in a video statement.
“Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas will act alternatively, as race director, assisted by Herbie Blash as permanent Senior Advisor, Michael Masi, who accomplished a very challenging job for three years as Formula 1 race director following Charlie Whiting, will be offered a new position within the FIA.”
Who is Niels Wittich?
Wittch comes with a wealth of experience, having most recently served as a Race Director for the popular German championship, DTM. The German has worked alongside Masi during the previous season and has also served as a Race Director for the Formula 2 and Formula 3 championships.
Wittch was also scheduled to work alongside Masi as his assistant in 2022, but will now need to draw on his 20-year stint as a Race Director and track inspector for the FIA, as he steps into the main role.
It must be stated that Wittch himself is coming off the back of a controversial season-ender, with the 2021 DTM finale coming under heavy fire for the light penalty handed to Kevin van der Linde, following the South African’s aggressive t-bone of title rival Liam Lawson.
Despite this, the German’s experience should serve to alliviate some of the inconsistency shown by the officials over the past few F1 seasons.
Who is Eduardo Freitas?
The German will be joined by Freitas, who has officiated the World Endurance Championship (WEC) for over a decade now. Freitas brings with him a no-nonsense approach and is well liked in the WEC paddock for his safety-first approach.
Freitas also comes with an incredible amount of experience with his career in motorsport dating back to the 1970s when he first served as a track inspector for karting.
Having started his career as a mechanic Frietas slowly worked his way up the order serving as a director in a diverse set of championships including the FIA GT Championship, ETCC and of course the WEC.
The Portuguese official has previously stated that his primary concern is the well-being of the drivers and that it is crucial for the team in race control to work together.
“The rule book is quite complex, some of the rules can take several times of reading to be able to understand what the legislator wants to achieve with it,” Freitas told DailySportsCar in an interview in 2021.
“But the main target and the first thing you always have to see is Safety. With safety, you cannot be soft, you cannot say, ‘Okay, let it go’. You have to be very careful. No matter what we do. It’s human beings inside the cars.
“The cars are expensive, I don’t care! For me, the target is to make sure that on Sunday, everyone goes home – and that’s a good weekend for me.”
Who is Herbie Blash?
The pair will be joined by Blash, who previously served under the late Charlie Whiting. Blash will join them as a permanent senior advisor.
Despite possessing the credentials to serve as a Race Director himself, Blash will instead work with Wittch and Freitas, as the trio looks to put a tumultuous 2021 behind them and bring in a more consistent interpretation of the rules in 2022.
The reintroduction of Blash in particular should shore up some of the officiating issues that plagued the 2021 season. Having served as a deputy race director since 1996, Blash has a unique understanding of the sport’s intricacies and will be able to mentor both Wittich and Freitas as they alternate their duties between races.
Other changes include the introduction of virtual control room that will mirror football’s introduction of VAR (Virtual Assistant Referree), that will provide an analysis of key moments during the Grand Prix.