The investigation into the biggest crisis facing F1’s governing body in years began in earnest this week.
New FIA President Mohammed bin Sulayem held talks with Mercedes Formula 1 team chief Toto Wolff on Friday, as part of a series of meetings between UAE Formula One team chiefs to discuss solutions to the controversy arising from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
But questions remain about the timetable for the stages of the investigation set by the FIA on Thursday, and whether the organization fully understands the threat to its credibility due to this situation.
In short, FIA Racing Director Michael Masi failed to properly enforce the rules during the safety car stint at the end of the season’s last Grand Prix, and his actions directly changed the hands of the world championship.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was on his way to winning it before his late caution period. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen snatched the race from him when the race resumed under questionable conditions on the last lap of the race.
The dispute is not over who was the world champion. It is about fair and equitable competition.
The man set to enforce the rules seemed to have made it up as he went, apparently as he struggled to deal with the pressures of the situation, under pressure from interference from both title contending teams. The result is the questioning of the integrity of the sport.
Increased stakes While Hamilton hasn’t said a word in public since the race, it is becoming clear the seven-time champion is very unhappy about the situation and will not make a decision on whether to continue in F1 until he sees how the FIA will deal with the issues raised by Abu Dhabi. .
It will take substantial action to begin rebuilding Hamilton’s confidence in the Board of Directors.
The alternative for the FIA is to face the prospect – however remote it may seem – of the most successful driver in history who is stepping away from the sport and says he is doing so because he does not trust its board to run F1 fairly.
If the FIA doesn’t realize it’s in crisis now, it surely will if that happens.
What is the focus of the investigation?
The FIA promised this investigation three days after Abu Dhabi. But work on that didn’t begin until last week. Bin Sulayem’s meeting with Wolf happened just over a month after the Abu Dhabi race. This is a delay that some in the sport find inexplicable, even allowing Christmas.
The impression is that the FIA was initially operating on the belief that the issue would go away with time. Hamilton’s indirect intervention this week rejected that idea forever.
Mercedes prefers not to comment at the moment, and the FIA has failed to respond to requests regarding how Bin Sulayem’s meeting with Wolff will proceed.
But Wolff – who, along with Hamilton, boycotted the FIA awards gala last month in protest in Abu Dhabi – will not leave the president under any illusions about how Mercedes feels about what happened, setting some of his predictions for ways forward.
Macy’s center in all of this. The controversy in Abu Dhabi was by far the biggest of his time as race director, but it wasn’t the only one.
As a person, Massey is widely loved. But the 2021 season has been marked by a series of complaints from drivers and teams regarding consistency and clarity of decision-making. It is fair to say that in his professional role, Massey has lost the trust of many – if not all – teams and drivers.
The new Race Director seems to many insiders to be the minimum starting point for any reorganization that follows this inquiry.
Beyond the general lack of confidence in Massey’s suitability for the role, it is hard to imagine how the new season could begin with Hamilton in a Mercedes and Massey still in control of the race. In the wake of Abu Dhabi, this does not seem to anyone like a sustainable situation.
And if Massey stays in office, this controversy is unlikely to ever end – the next mistake made will set it all back together.
what happened after that?
After Bin Sulayem’s meeting with Wolff, he will continue to have similar discussions with all the F1 team principals, to form a clear picture of their position on all of the issues raised in Abu Dhabi.
Next, the details of the investigation will be undertaken by FIA Motorsport Secretary General – and newly appointed Executive Director of Individual Seats – Peter Baer.
On January 19, Bayer will chair a meeting of the FIA’s Sports Advisory Committee, at which the sporting directors of all Formula One teams will sit, to discuss the use of the safety car.
There, it will be clear to him that Massey has failed to apply the rules as he should have done, and ways to ensure that the sporting regulations are clarified to remove any perceived ambiguity will be discussed.
In the days that follow, on a date yet to be announced, Bayer will have a “joint discussion with all drivers”.
Hamilton is expected to be involved, and potential discussion points will be how Massey and F1 officials have failed to handle racing incidents in a consistent manner until 2021.
Several drivers were also unhappy with the safety car running in Abu Dhabi – McLaren’s Lando Norris said it was “made for TV” and teammate Daniel Ricciardo said: “I’m glad I wasn’t a part of it.”
But it’s also possible that they’ll want to discuss the new world champion’s driving tactics – Verstappen’s tendency to force rivals off the track when they race, expecting them to make way for him, and letting them decide whether to crash or fall back.
This problem came to a head after the controversial incident at Turn Four during the Brazilian Grand Prix, when Verstappen went so fast to defend his lead against Hamilton that both went off the track.
The rest of the drivers did not understand how Verstappen had not been penalized for this. At a meeting at the next race in Qatar, the drivers sought clarification from Massey on what was allowed in similar situations, and most believed the rules prevented them from forcing rivals off the track.
But they came out saying they didn’t understand this clarity. And at the next race in Saudi Arabia, Verstappen did something similar, this time receiving a penalty.
By the end of the season, there was no certainty in drivers’ minds about what would be considered acceptable in parking lots, much to the chagrin of many of them.
Next, Bayer will present his analysis to the Formula One committee – team bosses, Ben Sulayem and Formula One chief Stefano Domenicali – in early February, again at an unconfirmed date.
Bayer was also asked to submit to Bin Sulayem “proposals to review and improve the organization of the FIA F1 structure for the 2022 season”.
This is interpreted as a decision on whether Massey will keep his job, as well as ways to ensure the race director has more support, and less distraction during the Grand Prix. Again, there is no history for that.
Is the schedule working?
Some F1 insiders were perplexed when the FIA released its investigation chart on Thursday, as it appears to be operating without any regard for the approaching new season.
The only certain date that was adhered to was “the announcement of the final decisions at the World Motor Sport Council on March 18”.
But this is the first training day for the first race of the season. The first two pre-season tests will be on February 23-25.
Can teams go into the first run of their new cars without confirmation of who they will be dealing with at the FIA on both sporting and technical matters, given the position of single-seater technical director Nicolas Tombazis has also been questioned in recent days?
Likewise, if a new race director is appointed, they will need time to prepare for their new role.
Then there is the Hamilton. He can barely make a decision about his future after he first drove his car, or after the first day of training for the new season.
So, despite the timetable released by the FIA on Thursday, the picture of how Formula 1 will change as a result of the controversy in Abu Dhabi should become clear ahead of Friday’s Grand Prix in Bahrain.
What are the possible outcomes?
It seems inevitable that Massey will be replaced as race director, but the question is for whom?
The obvious candidate is Scott Elkins, who plays the all-electric FIA Formula E Championship and German touring car series DTM.
Elkins had previously rotated the role of substitute for former FIA Director Charlie Whiting with Massey. It just so happened that Massey’s turn came the weekend Whiting died in Australia on the eve of the 2019 season, so he was recruited. It would have been Elkins who found himself drawn to the role had the Whiting tragedy happened another weekend.
However, Elkins is believed to have concerns about the profile and pressure of the role in F1.
One person many are happy to see is Steve Nielsen, the former sporting director of Renault and Williams who has held the same F1 title under Managing Director of Motorsport Ross Brawn since 2017.
Nielsen, 58, is widely respected, will have the confidence of the entire field and will be more than able to handle the pressures of the role. But there is no apparent reason to swap his current position for one with the FIA.
Behind the race director position, there is a matter sports regulations And whether they are fit for purpose.
The two articles that sparked such controversy in Abu Dhabi – 48.12 and 48.13 – seem clear enough on how to determine the sequence of events by which the race can be resumed after the safety car.
But Massey still found a way to interpret it differently – and stewards were still able to use it to tweak the interpretation of his actions in dismissing Mercedes’ protest the evening after the race.
These will need to be paved, as for Section 15.3. On the face of it, the race director gives “dominant authority” over the course clerk in running a number of aspects of the weekend, including the safety car. But in the wake of Abu Dhabi, some have suggested that the phrase gives the race director carte blanche to do as he pleases.
This is not an argument that stands up to logic, not least because it would obviate the need for any sporting regulations whatsoever if the race director were able to act on a whim. But it needs to get rid of potential use.
Then there is the weekend work and the race director position.
It has already been accepted – if not specifically prohibited in the rules – that team bosses will no longer be allowed to pressure the race director.
But, while Whiting has his deputy, Herbie Plush on his side, as a sound board, Massey has clearly lacked support over the past three years.
Regardless of the race director, they will need a better system around them to take the burden off one of the most stressful jobs in the sport.