Mohammed Ben Sulayem confirms ‘process underway’ for new F1 race directors

FIA flag on display at the F1 Dutch Grand Prix. Netherlands, September 2022. Budget cap Red Bull Credit: Alamy
FIA flag on display at the F1 Dutch Grand Prix. Netherlands, September 2022. Budget cap Red Bull Credit: Alamy

Formula 1 could start the new season with two new race directors after FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem admitted neither Niels Wittich nor Eduardo Freitas was safe in the job.

Last season the duo were appointed as Formula 1’s new race directors, the FIA opting for a rotating system in the wake of former race director Michael Masi’s exit.

Masi bid farewell to the job after a controversial final race in charge, the Australian accused of manipulating the 2021 title race as he gave the order for only the five cars between race leader Lewis Hamilton and second placed Max Verstappen to unlap themselves.

That set up a final lap shoot-out with Verstappen surging past Hamilton and taking the race win and the World title.

Mercedes and Hamilton were furious as it was unprecedented call from Masi, the rule usually interpreted as the entire field must unlap themselves and not just some of the cars.

While the FIA tweaked the rule from “any cars” to “all cars”, Ben Sulayem also announced Wittich and Freitas as F1’s new race directors.

However, after the Japanese Grand Prix and Pierre Gasly’s all-too close encounter with a recovery vehicle that was on the track, it was decided to finish the season with only one race director, Wittich.

But after his United States Grand Prix decision-making Wittich’s position is also on the line.

He is said to have been the one to have wrongly informed Haas they could protest Alpine even though the 30-minute deadline had come and gone. That led to Fernando Alonso being hit with a 30-second penalty, a penalty Alpine contested and won.

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2022’s contention calls have Ben Sulayem conceding that neither race director may be back in the paddock at the start of the 2023 season.

“No,” he told Marca. “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.”

The FIA president also revealed that Masi wasn’t axed from his role, as had been speculated, but rather he chose to leave.

“It was his choice,” he said. “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.”

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