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Caught up in controversial F1 decision, ex-race director leaves FIA

Former FIA race director Michael Masi will “relocate to Australia to be closer to his family and take on new challenges” five months after he was reassigned as a result of his handling of the 2021 season finale. (David Davies/AP)

Former Formula One race director Michael Masi left his role with the sport’s governing body seven months after his controversial decision helped tilt the outcome of last year’s drivers’ championship. Masi will “relocate to Australia to be closer to his family and take on new challenges,” the FIA said in a statement Tuesday.

Masi served as race director for three years, overseeing the employment of safety measures such as red flags or safety cars during races. He assumed the role in 2019 and held it until February, when he was reassigned following his handling of December’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

That episode occurred during the 2021 season finale, the climax of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s duel for the title. Masi’s decisions following a late safety car period were meant to restart the race with one lap remaining, but he partly ignored FIA regulations in making them. That enabled Verstappen to pass Hamilton on the final lap of the race, inviting confusion and acrimony from Hamilton’s Mercedes team and many observers.

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The FIA later concluded Masi acted in good faith but made a “human error” in his handling of the race. He was relieved of his duties as race director in February but remained with the FIA.

Team principals from Mercedes and Verstappen’s Red Bull team communicated directly with Masi as he deliberated how to handle the final stages of the title-deciding race. In its aftermath, direct radio communication during races was removed ahead of this season “to protect the race director from any pressure and allow him to take decisions peacefully,” FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem said. The FIA also incorporated a “Virtual Race Control Room” to assist the race director in applying sporting regulations.

Masi was replaced by Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, who have filled his role on a rotating basis since the new season began in March.

The battle between Verstappen and Hamilton has been less contentious — and less competitive — in 2022, with new vehicle regulations reshuffling the hierarchy. After 11 races, Verstappen (208 points) holds a sizable advantage over Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc (170) atop the standings. Hamilton, who fell short of a record eighth title as a result of Masi’s December decision, sits in sixth place with 109.