I don’t think there is anything easy about the Racing Director job that the FIA’s Michael Masi inherited due to the untimely death of Charlie Whiting. In fact, I think in many ways we took Charlie for granted and undervalued him as the race director with decades of experience.
The reason I say that is due to the inevitable learning pains that we’ve had since Michael was shoved into the role when Charlie passed. Michael had been working for Charlie as deputy race director having come up through the Super Tour series in Australia and worked as deputy to the junior Formula series before moving to F1.
Needless to say, Michael wasn’t new to F1 and had been working under Charlie but even so, it is difficult to avoid the growing and learning pains that come with such an overwhelmingly critical role as F1 race director.
Like any seasoned veteran who no longer fills a post, there is a loss of wisdom and experience and I know that isn’t popular to hear among the younger crowd but there are many things in life that simply can’t be googled…wisdom and experience are a couple of them.
You can read all you want about pulling 30,000 feet of CAT 6 shielded cable but until you actually do it several times in multiple applications, you have very little understanding of how to do it. You can read all you want about fiberglass cabling and data but until you’ve cut, spliced and polished glass accurately, you have very little idea of what’s really going on despite your wicked Google prowess.
Sure, it’s good having access to documented experiences and notes about pulling CAT 6 or fiber and it would also be handy to have similar notes about managing races. One would presume that Charlie kept a log or notes but if he didn’t, there is little doubt that Michael has worked very hard to develop his own playbook via harvested data and living through the experiences to gain wisdom. Michael seems like that kind of guy.
I’ve met Charlie and he was one of the most understated and unassuming guys I’ve had the honor of meeting who held such an important role for F1. You would have expected some level of bravado but there was none. I’ve never met Michael but he strikes me as an energetic chap who likes to beaver the details out of situations and likes managing resource, time and actions.
I think, and no offense meant toward Michael, we’ve seen his learning curve manifested in alternating track limit decisions during race weekends, telling Toto Wolff to go see the Stewards even though the sporting regulations don’t allow for it and regulatory shifting sands regarding wings, engines and more. None of these are easy and some of them aren’t, specifically, in Michael’s purview. Still, I think he, like any young man shoved into that role, is finding his way.
It’s the teething pain of losing wisdom and experience and I mean nothing untoward, just the stark reality of ignoring experience, wisdom, history and process. I’ve seen this many times in my career when new people take over. The sign that you have chosen the right person/people is when they begin by asking one simple question…how did we get here?
In business, you get a new director or CEO and they should ask, “how did we get from $0 in sales of this product to $80M?”. There is a huge backstory there and to understand the way forward, you have to understand the road that got you to the pivotal crossroads you now find yourself at.
In Michael’s case, the crossroads was abruptly placed before him and in many ways, he’s doing a terrific job in filling shoes that were, quite honestly, too large for anyone to fill. Regardless, Michael Masi is no Charlie Whiting and that’s ok. He doesn’t have to be nor should he be but I do hope he’s asked, “how did we get here?”.
With regards to timing, when Michael was thrust into the role, Liberty had recently taken over F1 and putting Ross Brawn in the sporting role gave the FIA and Michael a seasoned voice to work with. How much the two work together on issues is anyone’s guess and how much Jean Todt is coaching Michael I don’t know. Point here is that there still is wisdom around him even if Charlie is gone and Ross is certainly a seasoned veteran of F1.
I would like to thank Michael for his tireless efforts in very tough times and I do hope we start to see fewer issues such as continually changing track limits even during a race weekend, more clarity on driver points, hard racing versus penalties, better clarity and more consistency. From the outside looking in, I would say Michael is doing a terrific job despite the teething pains of a new role but I am sure that creates some frustration for the teams. I am sure Michael is tired of hearing them tell him, “Well, Charlie used to do it this way or that’s not what Charlie would have done”.
Managing F1’s regulatory role is one thing but I feel like there is room for Michael to move beyond just sitting on the egg and actually laying a few eggs of his own in cleaning up the system and making if more effective. In short, to start taking control of the future of the sport’s regulatory direction and owning it like Charlie did. It’s time to close the Whiting era of regulatory direction and start the Masi era without jettisoning all of the wisdom and experience gained from decades of Charlie’s purview. Not and easy task but I am sure Michael knew that when he said yes to the role. Keep up the great work Michael.