There was some audio of a discussion between FIA race director Michael Masi and Red Bull sporting director Jonathan Wheatley during the final moments of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that has re-ignited the entire debate on social media.
Wheatley: “Those lapped cars; you don’t need to let them go right the way around and catch up with the back of the pack. You only need to let them go, and then we’ve got a motor race on our hands.”
What many have implied is that Masi’s use of the term “motor race” when he was justifying to Mercedes boss Toto Wolff about bringing the safety car in early.
Masi: “Toto, it’s called a motor race, okay?”
If I’m honest, I find this a bit of a storm in a teacup. When I first listened, it sounded as if here was previous conversation to this radio recording about un-lapping the cars and Jonathan was suggesting that he didn’t need to wait until they made it all the way back to the tail of the line. Something Charlie whiting has done in the past and Michael Masi surely knows as well.
The term “motor race” is common and may or may not have been lodged in Michaels brain during the 3-5 minutes he had to make a decision and fend off team bosses calling him and trying to press him.
Chances are, Michael may have agreed with Jonathan that getting the lapped traffic out of the way between the contenders was what he was going to do and when Toto complained, Michael may very well have seen it as getting a motor race going again.
This prompted Martin Brundle to weigh on on the subject telling Sky Sports F1:
“Let’s not assume it’s giving Masi information he didn’t already know in terms of what he could and couldn’t do in terms of the lapped pack.
“Of course it’s really uncomfortable, and a lot of people are unhappy: (Lewis) Hamilton fans, Mercedes fans.
“And you don’t even have to be a Lewis Hamilton fan to think that forever he should be an eight-time world champion, because, for me, the really crucial regulation that wasn’t carried out was that the safety car should have come in at the end of the following lap.
“But we also know that unwritten rules and meetings, which shouldn’t supersede anything, were: let’s try not to have a race finish behind the safety car.
“Hugely unacceptable. I met so many fans that were new to Formula 1 last year particularly, and fans in general, that were hugely upset by what happened.”
“We cannot – and we know it’s going to change – have teams getting at the referee while he’s trying to make critical decisions with cars on the track and marshals and breakdown vehicles,” he added.
“The car was on fire at certain times. He’s trying to manage that and he’s getting lobbied left, right and centre. You can imagine that on the football ground or rugby ground is completely unacceptable. And that will change.
“It’s not pretty for Formula 1 at all, but I don’t think this audio changes the really uncomfortable narrative of what happened.”
Ultimately I think Michael already knew what he was going to do by the time the audio clip occurred, as Martin suggests, and the remaining issues about him using the term “Motor Race” are irrelevant to the issue.
Ultimately the system or process is broken nd needs realignment. From steward consistency to race control operations, team communication and late-race caution contingencies. NASCAR, WEC, IMSA and other series have this sorted out and F1 needs to as well.