If you didn’t know who Michael Masi was before the end of 2021, chances are, you do now! The dust has settled over the F1 winter break but the drama is far from over. With Hamilton’s future still unannounced and the FIA calling an extraordinary meeting to discuss Masi’s conduct, tutor Roger weighs in with his opinion….
Making Up the Rules...
For anyone who has been living under a rock for the last couple of years, Michael Masi took up the F1 Race Director reins after the sad loss of Charlie Whiting in 2019. Before becoming CW’s deputy he had been FIA race director for F2 and F3, so he knew his way round a paddock and the rule book, before being dropped into the Top Job.
This is important, because moving forward he put himself firmly in the centre of some of the biggest controversies that F1 has had in recent years. Some have been rule manipulations, some seem to have been in spite of the rules and some would make you believe he was reading the rules for a competition on the side of a Rice Krispies box. Other cereals are available. Ed.
Skipping the 2 lap Spa thriller, Were you watching a different race to me? Ed. NO, I was being sarcastic!, the negotiations with teams during a race, the listening to pleas to take an action and the Baku restart, it is of course the Abu Dhabi finale that I am prattling on about.
In the US racing series’ there is an overriding rule, written and unwritten, that “The Show” is paramount. If you watched this weekend’s Daytona 24 hours you will have seen a class lead change 2 minutes or so from the end, after a safety car bunched everyone up; there was nearly a change for the lead of the race as well – all in the name of the show. Watch NASCAR and you will see that they are masters of ‘The Show’, even if the falsity can be hard to stomach for those not familiar with it. The point being, that the rules allow for it AND way more than that, the UNWRITTEN rules allow for it,
What does that mean for the teams? With it being cast in stone that the show is No 1, the teams can strategize based on the “rules” and through the vagaries of Lady Luck and fate, they can deliver their best race with a reasonable level of certainty of decision making.
For me, this is where the problem lay in the management of the 2021 F1 season, and where the rightly partisan crowds supporting their drivers had good cause to be grumpy. THE RULES HAD CHANGED! They weren’t just the ones that were written down, they included the Masi appendices at the back! They were not just black and white printing on the page, they were every shade of grey in between. As bad as that is, Masi and his stewards then tried to justify these decisions by suggesting there was some wiggle room in the rules. Done in a manner that was so condescending it was painful to read and listen to. These would be the same rules that are cast iron and as solid as a safe, when required of course!
So where is this leading? Do I think that Red Bull influenced some of the decisions? Do I think that Mercedes whined just a little too much when a decision didn’t go their way last year? Did Christian Horny give too many moany soundbites to the media when he didn’t get a good result from the Stewards? Yes, to all of these and many more but that is not the point of this little note.
To mix up all the metaphors in this piece – if you move the goalposts, in the middle of the match, then no-one is playing the same game they started when the lights went out. By “flexing” oohh, that was polite! Ed. the rules to suit the situation, the sport is brought into disrepute. Let’s face it, there are many who already think F1 is the most expensive game of cheat on the planet, so dragging F1 even further through the dirt is doing the sport no favours. The officials are supposed to be rock solid, not like Sepp Blatter and his gang of corrupt FIFA cronies. Whether there was corruption, coercion or any level of pressure applied, it’s unforgiveable at any level of sport.
This week, the motorsport headlines have suggested that the talk of Mad Masi losing his job, as the price of Mercedes withdrawing their claims, seems to be gaining traction. The FIA has called an extraordinary meeting and confirmed that this will include discussions about Masi’s future. As motorsport’s governing body continues to lean on teams and drivers alike it has also said that it won’t release any updates until the eve of the new season, so, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. For those who don’t speak French – The more things change, the more they stay the same. Ed.