Formula One: The men tasked with leading the sport out of controversy after Michael Masi's sacking

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It was the outcome that many fans and pundits had expected once the dust finally settled after that controversial race in Abu Dhabi.

From the moment that Max Verstappen crossed the line ahead of Lewis Hamilton, thereby clinching his maiden world championship, an inquest ensued online and, eventually, Formula One launched its own investigation.

After two months of deliberation, Michael Masi’s fate was finally sealed and the Australian was relieved of his race director duties following his mishandling of the finale in the desert.  

In his place comes a triumvirate made up of the most experienced motor racing officials that the sport has to offer, alongside new rules that state there is to be no direct communication with the race director from teams, while a virtual race control will be in place to act as a de-facto VAR. 

But who are the men tasked with leading F1 out of its most controversial spell in recent years? 

Michael Masi's departure as Formula One race director has seen grand chances made

Michael Masi’s departure as Formula One race director has seen grand chances made 

The Australian has left his post amid the fallout of the shambolic 2021 finale in Abu Dhabi

The Australian has left his post amid the fallout of the shambolic 2021 finale in Abu Dhabi 

Eduardo Freitas

A motor racing stalwart, the Portuguese official started out as a mechanic and worked his way up the ladder, moving into karting in 1979.

By the turn of the century, Freitas had been named the race director of the FIA GT and ECC Championships, before going onto take up a similar role with the World Endurance Championship in 2012.

A master in officiating longer-form races, the Portuguese has been the race director the the European and Asian versions of Le Mans, and is widely popular among fans for his ‘no-nonsense’ approach.

In fact, a petition was formed following the Abu Dhabi fiasco, calling for Freitas to takeover from Masi. 

Portuguese official Eduardo Freitas (R) has been championed by fans as a 'no-nonsense' figure

Portuguese official Eduardo Freitas (R) has been championed by fans as a ‘no-nonsense’ figure

The Portuguese takes a safety first approach

The Portuguese takes a safety first approach

‘Freitas is recognized around the world as a consistent and authoritative voice,’ Bradley Philpot, creator of the petition, said. 

The Portuguese is unlikely to fall for the tactics of persuasion employed by Christian Horner, Toto Wolff et al.   

‘We work in a team,’ he told DailySportsCar. ‘It’s not only us in Race Control that are the team, our way of working is to team up with the teams and the drivers. And if we all work together, I think at the end of the day, it’s better for all parties involved.’

‘The rule book is quite complex, some of the rules can take several times of reading to be able to understand what the legislator wants to achieve with it. But the main target and the first thing you always have to see is Safety.

‘With safety, you cannot be soft, you cannot say, “Okay, let it go”. You have to be very careful. No matter what we do. It’s human beings inside the cars. The cars are expensive, I don’t care! For me, the target is to make sure that on Sunday, everyone goes home – and that’s a good weekend for me.

‘If I lose seven hours afterwards discussing regulations and articles this I don’t mind as long as they all get home.’

It is clear that a man of Freitas’s experience will not be easily swayed during his tenure.  

Niels Wittich

The man who will be working in tandem with Freitas is Niels Wittich. The pair will operate as race director on a rotational basis, so it is just as important to get the lowdown on the German’s career.

Most recently the race director of Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM), Wittich was poised to join Formula One this season in support of Masi.

The German was on duty for several Formula One races last season and worked alongside the Australian, but Masi’s departure sees him promoted into this new role. 

Wittich has worked with the FIA before, carrying out roles as race director for F2 and F3 and is renowned for his ‘hard but fair’ approach to racing.   

Niels Wittich is in favour of 'hard but fair' racing and has previously worked in F2 and F3

Niels Wittich is in favour of ‘hard but fair’ racing and has previously worked in F2 and F3

However, it should be noted that there was a controversial ending to the DTM 2021 campaign, with championship leader Liam Lawson wiped out of the race in the opening corner due to a reckless divebomb down the inside by Kelvin van der Linde.

Van der Linde was awarded a mere five-second penalty for the incident that left Lawson with little chance of catching title rival Maxi Gomez, who coasted to victory and subsequently the championship. 

It was an unsatisfactory ending to a compelling season, but Wittich’s experience spanning over 20 years should provide clear-headed thinking in the stewards’ room.

Herbie Blash 

While Freitas and Wittich will be the men occupying the race director hotseat, Herbie Blash’s involvement this season will put many in the paddock at ease.

Blash, of course, was the calm, pragmatic sidekick of Charlie Whiting – the man viewed as ‘the pillar of the sport’ having served as the race director from 1997 until his death in 2019.

Whiting and Blash formed a formidable double act, with the latter often tasked with putting on the charm offensive when relaying unwelcome news to teams handed down by the race director. 

It is that amenable, open approach that will – it is hoped – cut out the tension that has recently engulfed the stewards and the teams. 

Given Blash’s experience and knowledge of the sport, an argument could be made that he is the perfect candidate to take on the race director role full time, but the 73-year-old will instead operate as a ‘permanent advisor’ to the two newcomers. 

Herbie Blash was Charlie Whiting's right-hand man and will offer a calming presence

Herbie Blash was Charlie Whiting’s right-hand man and will offer a calming presence



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