EDITORIAL: Removing Michael Masi is not enough

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By Adrian Mann

FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem announced today that Michael Masi will be removed from his position as Formula 1 race director, while a new race management structure will be put in place. It’s a good first step if they are serious about untangling the controversy surrounding the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but it is in no way enough.

The first problem that immediately pops into mind is the fact that nowhere in Ben Sulyem’s statement is it explained why Masi needs to be removed. As a matter of fact, in the last two months the FIA has never officially stated that mistakes were made during the controversial final moments of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The only wording the FIA ever used basically blamed the fans and observers more than their own staff.

“The circumstances surrounding the use of the Safety Car following the incident of driver Nicholas Latifi, and the related communications between the FIA Race Direction team and the Formula 1 teams, have notably generated significant misunderstanding and reactions from Formula 1 teams, drivers and fans, an argument that is currently tarnishing the image of the Championship and the due celebration of the first Drivers’ World Championship title won by Max Verstappen and the eighth consecutive Constructors’ World Championship title won by Mercedes,” read the FIA’s statement, which was made in the immediate aftermath of the race.

It’s hardly allowing for the possibility that there was any wrongdoing on the part of the FIA. In fact they basically said they are launching an investigation into the situation as a reaction to this “significant misunderstanding”. It’s interesting to note that this statement was made a day before the deadline for Mercedes’ appeal, leaving many under the impression that it was all done just so Mercedes could be appeased enough to drop it. Now this new statement from Ben Sulayem comes a day before Mercedes’ 2022 car launch. Coincidence? Well, there seems to have been a lot of those lately.

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All of this leads one to speculate that the FIA would much rather sweep the whole thing under the rug, so they are doing and saying the bare minimum needed to keep Mercedes and the public at bay. However, although Masi’s removal was a necessity if Formula 1 was going to keep any semblance of legitimacy, without an admission of wrongdoing it is not worth much.

The FIA needs to come out with a complete and transparent report detailing the findings of their Abu Dhabi inquiry, they need to openly state if there was any wrongdoing detected and they need to let the public know how such things will be prevented in the future. The FIA will put in place a new race management structure in 2022, but they need to openly state why it’s necessary. And they should stay away from talking about making the rules more clear, because they were completely clear, they just weren’t followed.

The main problem the FIA faces once they openly admit what happened in Abu Dhabi was a result of the race director breaking the rules, is the fact that it will completely cheapen an already tarnished 2021 title. It’s unfortunate, but it’s nobody’s fault but their own. They could have limited the damage had they taken Mercedes’ post-race protest seriously instead of dismissing it with laughable explanations. Unfortunately, there’s no going back now, the 2021 title is tarnished. They could of course try to restore its legitimacy by showing some real resolve and taking it away from the person who won it under illegitimate circumstances, but that might be a bit too much to ask. In these circumstances, the bare minimum we all have to demand is at least some transparency.

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