FIA Race Director Michael Masi has opened up about taking over from Charlie Whiting, his relation with F1 drivers/teams, new regulations, 2020 start and more.
The FIA and those that it governs over – the drivers/teams – have a complex relationship, owing to the competitive nature of F1, and the simultaneous need for collaboration within the pinnacle of motorsport. And maintaining a solid relationship through all these complexities can be tough.
Tough, even for race director Masi, who – by his own admission – is still in the process of gaining respect of the F1 teams. The Australian assumed the role immediately following the passing of Whiting last year, who was one of the most loved characters in the paddock. Evidently, he had some titanic shoes to fill.
“Following Charlie’s footsteps, those are shoes that will never be filled, and that was certainly a huge challenge, but respect is something that’s earned and earned with time,” said Masi in an interview to Sky Sports F1. “You just sort of build that up, and my first part is, I want to be true to myself.
“I don’t do things that I don’t believe in but on the other hand, being relatively new to the way the F1 world works, it’s getting an understanding of what everyone’s expectations are to formulate opinions, and you can always formulate opinions but I think gathering information and background on certain things is critical.
“For me, I haven’t had a point of reference. Normally, when you go through any sort of succession planning element or handover in a job, you can ask your predecessor, how they went about this and how they went about that.
“Part of it’s been the discovery process along the way, but I’ve also been very fortunate that everyone’s been open, welcoming, and happy to share information – even when it’s to their own detriment, and we know how competitive the world of Formula 1 is, just to say ‘this is the way it was and here’s some background on some things.’
“It’s been good but as I said, respect is not just handed out. It’s something you have to earn, and earn, and earn over a period of time,” summed up Masi, who also discussed his relations with the F1 drivers specifically. He was complimentary of them, while he also joked that witnessing their mind games can be entertaining.
“Put it this way: I can actually say, like any one, and any elite sportsman, I have worked with quite a few different drivers in other series’, and as a group, you can tell the games that they like to play when they’re in a group environment with each other,” said Masi.
“Anthony Davidson will tell you straight away, as will Johnny Herbert, that that’s part of the game. They are all elite sportsman, and part of that is the mental game that they play together. One on one – when you actually sit down with them privately – they are all great.
“They are quite open, they say it as it is, they are very respectful, they put their point forward, I put mine forward, and some things we can find a compromise, so it’s a bit harsh to say that the older statesmen are a bit more prickly.
“I think that’s actually far from the truth. But yeah, at the end of the day, they’re in a super competitive environment, and as someone put it to me the other day, you have 20 alpha males all sitting in a room together, it’s a cocktail for the right environment to come out of that, but it’s actually fun to watch.
“When you’re sitting at the front of the room at a driver’s meeting, watching them all, you can see the mind games that some of them are playing within the group. It’s quite entertaining.” Moving along, Masi discussed about the projected start of the 2020 F1 season in Austria – the Government having given green signal to it too.
Masi believes it will be interesting how they go about it but his work as the race director will see no different approach as it was at the end of 2019 F1 season. “I don’t think any of the drivers have ever been out of a car or kart or anything else for this long, ever,” he said. “But in Austria, I think it will be more of a continuation of where we were with the ‘let them race’ principles towards the end of last year. I can’t see anything changing dramatically.
“And at the end of the day, we have 20 of the best drivers in the world. They’re in F1 for a reason. While they may not have been in a car of recent times, I don’t think that’s going to have a great deal of impact in their capabilities. I’m as excited as everyone else for the first free practice session in Austria and to get motorsport back underway.
“It is something that we are all thriving and looking forward to see because it is something we have all missed.” Outside this, Masi talked about the busy work inside the FIA hub during races as they then discussed on how the new regulations came about and how the technical, financial and sporting changes can re-ignite F1.
“I am hugely involved as this process started – keeping aside the huge changes that was to come in 2021 but pushed to 2022 – with all of the changes for next year with regards to technical and so on, its split up the FIA task,” started Masi. “We have myself and sporting directors to look at the sporting regulations of F1 and other single-seaters pathway.
“We have Nikolas Tombaiz looking after technical matters and have a team that introduced the financial regulations. There is effectively three pillars for each area, but I am quite excited about it. The introduction of the financial regulations is result of the budget cap and lowering of the figure is fantastic for the future proofing and trying to ensure the long-term sustainability of the sport as its a critical pillar.
“Also, I am excited to see the aero tapering happening from first down to 10th, it seems like a draft system which we see in football. I don’t know if we will get full value of it in the first but from second year onward, I think it will be a really good thing for the sport, to compress the field and bring us back to good old days.
“At the end of the day, the cream always rises at the top, but if we as a sport have 20 cars far closer together on technical differential, that for me is only huge benefit to deliver which all of our fans and we want to see – a good hard racing with as many people possible.”
Summing up, Masi recognised that the COVID-19 pandemic could be taken as a blessing in disguise, which allowed them to stream through many topics in a systematic manner. The Australian felt they would have done it anyways but the time off allowed them to work together better, even on the safety side.
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The story was edited by Darshan Chokhani