'Possibility' Michael Masi could be replaced as F1 race director

Michael Masi, the Formula One race director at the centre of the controversy surrounding last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, could be replaced in his role in 2022, according to an FIA official investigating the matter.

Last year's championship result continues to be a source of controversy in the sport and has cast uncertainty over Lewis Hamilton's future in F1.

According to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, Hamilton was "disillusioned" by the events in Abu Dhabi and ESPN understands the outcome of the FIA's investigation could determine whether the seven-time champion returns to the grid this year.

Speaking to Austrian newspaper Voralberger Nachrichten, the FIA's singer-seater director Peter Bayer, who will make proposals to F1 teams and the FIA based on the results of the investigation, said he could not rule out the possibility that Masi is replaced as race director.

"Michael has done a great job in many ways," he said. "We definitely don't want to lose him.

"We told him that, but also that there is a possibility that there may be a new race director.

"I can only make proposals to the World Council, and they will definitely include Michael."

Masi's interpretation of F1's Safety Car rules in the final laps of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix presented Max Verstappen with a chance to beat Hamilton to the 2021 title that he would not have had if the regulations had been followed to the letter.

Mercedes protested Masi's decisions after the race only for the FIA's stewards to reject the team's complaints and uphold the result.

Mercedes considered appealing the stewards' decision but ultimately decided to withdraw its appeal when the FIA agreed to launch an investigation into the matter.

The investigation got underway earlier this month but recommendations from its findings will not be signed off by the FIA's World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) until March 18, just two days before the opening race of the new season.

Prior to that date, Bayer will present recommendations for change to the teams and new FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

In the interview with Voralberger Nachrichten, Bayer said that if Mercedes had successfully appealed the result of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December the most likely outcome would have been an annulment of the race result, meaning Verstappen would have still been crowned champion based on the points scores before the race.

"Masi had several options in those seconds when he had to decide, all according to regulations," Bayer said. "He could have finished the race under safety car, he could have stopped [red flag as in Baku], but Nicholas Latifi's accident would not have justified it. Or he could have done what he did, which was to get out of there somehow.

"If the Mercedes protest had gone to the Court of Appeal after rejection by the stewards, what would have come out of it? I believe that the judges would have said that the regulations say differently to what he decided, so we could only declare the result invalid.

"But even then -- in the event of cancellation -- Max Verstappen would have been world champion. It's also about having respect for the race director."

Bayer said one of his early conclusions at this stage is that the race director needs more support in his role and that the race director's responsibilities, which include sporting, safety can track inspection responsibilities, should be split between different individuals.

"There will be a division of the diverse tasks of the race director, who is also sporting director, safety and track delegate. That was just too much," Bayer said.

One thing that was noted in the post-race stewards' investigation in Abu Dhabi was that the teams had previously requested that races not be ended under the safety car. Bayer said the teams still supported that stance, meaning work arounds could be factored into the rules to avoid any possibility of a race ending behind a safety car.

"We also asked the teams whether their demand not to end a race under Safety Car was still relevant, which they all affirmed," Bayer said.

He also revealed that the FIA would look into creating additional support via a "mission control" based in Geneva, which will act as a back-up team much like the remote engineering groups F1 teams have back at their factories during race weekends.

Bayer confirmed that, as had been previously reported, team principals would no longer be able to speak directly to the race director and that new forms of communications between the teams and the FIA during the race would be set up to alleviate pressure on the race director.