(L to R): Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes; Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri; Miami International Autodrome, 2022

“A very good start”: How F1’s new race director has tightened up its racing rules

2022 F1 season

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The controversial conclusion to the 2021 world championship triggered sweeping changes in how Formula 1 is officiated.

But former race director Michael Masi’s handling of the now notorious last-lap restart which decided the world championship was not the only time the application of F1’s rules was called into question.

Track limits were a persistent bone of contention. So were perceived inconsistencies in decisions regarding on-track incidents, particularly the issue of drivers forcing rivals wide in Austria (Lando Norris and Sergio Perez) and Brazil (Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton). And more besides.

The FIA did not make a like-for-like replacement when Masi was moved aside. Two people were appointed to share the role, the first of which, DTM race director Niels Wittich, oversaw all of the first five rounds. World Endurance Championship race director Eduardo Freitas is due to step in for the first time at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.

Report: Racing rules clarification issued to F1 drivers post-Abu Dhabi published in full
Wittich wasted no time making his presence felt. Drivers were given new guidance on what is and is not considered a legitimate overtaking move – an area which had been regularly disputed during 2021, where clarity is obviously vital.

The rules on track limits were also tightened up. Where Masi allowed case-by-case exceptions to track limits rules at certain corners, at the first race of the season Wittich made it clear those days were over: “In accordance with the provisions of Article 33.3, the white lines define the track edges,” his first set of notes to drivers stated.

Following their first meeting with Wittich, drivers were appreciative of his approach, the revised guidance on track limits and – in Daniel Ricciardo’s case – his “nice hair”.

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“I thought it was a good meeting,” Ricciardo added, more seriously. “It was just honest, straight to the point. Like the track limits, it’s there, it’s a black-and-white line. I feel like there was a good impression left in the room and it was a good, open discussion with everyone.”

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Russell was told to let Hamilton past in Miami
One regular area of dispute in recent seasons has been when drivers who go off-track are required to relinquish positions to rivals. Under Wittich the practice of race control telling drivers when to move aside has not ended, contrary to prior reports, as shown when George Russell was instructed to let his team mate past in Miami.

This was at the heart of another of last year’s biggest controversies, when Verstappen was told to let Hamilton pass him in Saudi Arabia, but attempted to do so while also staying close enough to benefit from his rival’s DRS. Hamilton, alert to Verstappen’s ploy, held back from passing him before the DRS activation line, after which the Red Bull driver slowed even more sharply and was hit by the Mercedes.

Drivers can now expect they will be watched more closely to ensure they adequately surrender any advantage gained, as Kevin Magnussen remarked when F1 returned to Saudi Arabia earlier this year. “They are expecting more from the drivers in terms of giving back the position if you’ve gained an advantage,” he said.

Fernando Alonso ran afoul of this in Miami. While running at the front of a tightly-packed queue of drivers, all besides him able to use DRS due to the proximity of those they were following, Alonso cut across the track at turn 15. Although he slowed to give up some of the advantage, he had still gained enough by the DRS line to prevent Mick Schumacher behind him from being able to open his rear wing.

The stewards duly penalised Alonso. Whether or not he intentionally left the track to deny Schumacher DRS, it’s clear race control realised he had gained more than just lap time by going off.

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Besides being dissatisfied with the penalty and the lost points, Alpine were also unhappy they were not allowed to put their case forward before the decision was made. However this is not unprecedented: In-race decisions are often made without the teams being consulted. Alonso had already been penalised earlier in the race for a collision with Pierre Gasly.

Fernando Alonso, Alpine, Miami International Autodrome, 2022
Poll: Did the stewards handle Alonso’s chicane cutting incidents in Miami correctly?
Teams are always likely to complain about individual decisions which go against them. Others have been broadly positive about the first five races under F1’s new race control team.

A minor controversy arose in Australia where a new DRS zone was removed shortly before final practice began. Some teams claimed this put them at a disadvantage.

“The frustrating bit was that we were notified quite late about the whole difference,” said Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack. “There is a big implication of this because as soon as you remove the DRS zone there we were concerned that we would run into more oscillation issues.

“You could see it also with other cars. I think the interesting bit was there was nobody running in the first 15 minutes of free practice three. So there was a lot of people who had a bit of work to do.”

However he was reluctant to criticise Wittich for the change. “It would be too easy to blame it on the race director,” said Krack. “If nine teams can handle it, then we should be able to handle it as well. So yes, it’s a new race director, but this cannot serve as an excuse.”

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Few wish to dwell on the rancorous end to last year’s world championship. But McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl is another who likes what he has seen so far of the new regime.

Niels Wittich, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2022
Wittich has overseen the first five races this year
“I don’t want to compare to the past because from our point of view, we have been very happy with the exchange, and with the working relationship we had also with the previous set-ups the FIA had in terms of race direction or the stewards.

“But from my point of view the new set-up with Niels, and also with Eduardo, had a very good start going into this new era of Formula 1. Niels is quite straightforward in terms of making sure that the rules get enforced. He’s also quite straightforward in terms of getting across what he’s expecting and that’s what I personally like.

“At the same time he’s always available for a dialogue and for constructive input as well, if you think things need to be reconsidered. And from this point of view, and I know how these first races went, I think we’re in a good place.”

However F1’s new race direction team is yet to face its biggest tests. A world championship fight which goes down to the final races will no doubt subject it to much greater pressures than it has contended with so far.

Furthermore a key question remains whether the consistency of policing can be sustained when there is a different director in the seat from race to race. We should get our first insight into that this weekend.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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20 comments on ““A very good start”: How F1’s new race director has tightened up its racing rules”

  1. “The controversial conclusion to the 2021 world championship triggered sweeping changes in how Formula 1 is officiated.”

    tch tch incorrect

    “The controversial officiating of 2021 world championship triggered sweeping changes in how Formula 1 is officiated.”

    As a side note, does anyone remember those articles from sky sports and the rest of the British media brigade back at the start of the season defending Masi?

    https://www.skysports.com/f1/news/12433/12294116/martin-brundle-the-verdict-on-lewis-hamiltons-portuguese-gp-win-and-red-bulls-track-limits-claim

    “I don’t agree with Red Bull about track limit inconsistency and their claim that they have now been robbed of a victory, a pole position, and a fastest lap additional point this season.

    Motorsport is controlled by the FIA in an impressive and comprehensive way with paperwork and key personnel.”

    -Martin Brundle

    That didn’t age well at all lol.

    On a more serious note. We have a much better officiating so far.

  2. Communication and implementation of the rules are significantly improved so far this year. Most fans will have no idea who Wittich and Freitas are, and the longer it stays that way, the better.

    I’d be curious to see if teams start to complain less, as Alpine did for Alonso’s penalty, once they see the fruitlessness of it. Old habits die hard, and if the championship battle flares up, I suspect Red Bull in particular will be vocal when it suits them. Fingers crossed that the race directors don’t yield to whatever pressure they might get put under.

    1. Communication and implementation of the rules are significantly improved so far this year. Most fans will have no idea who Wittich and Freitas are, and the longer it stays that way, the better.

      Exactly @ciaran!

      The most important thing is clearly communicating what is expected. And then stewarding according to that.
      Off course teams will complain, drivers will complain and with the championship fight developing, I am sure we’ll eventually see Dr. Marko brining out some allegations against Ferrari, against some officials etc., Horner not agreeing but telling us there might be questions and Ferrari also publicly starting to push their views in the Media if they feel it helps them.

      Let’s hope they keep the consistent line.

      1. @ciaran @bascb Indeed we’ve all seen coaches and players of various sporting matches (of all codes) complain to the umpire/referee during the game about decisions made (not sure why because not once have I ever seen them change their mind).

        1. Yeah, it seems to be part of the “game”, doesn’t it @justrhysism

  3. One thing you would have to say about Wittich so far is that he has never put out a safety car if he didn’t have to; in Saudi Arabia he covered the Alonso and Ricciardo retirements with a VSC where Masi would have thrown a full safety car, and even in Miami he tried to go with a VSC at first when it was always going to be a full safety car. For me, that proves he is not looking to throw safety cars for the sake of the show, and we will not see another Baku 2021 situation under Niels Wittich. That is a good thing, in my opinion, as it reduces the luck element and makes F1 fairer. Safety cars and red flags should only be used when necessary from a safety perspective.

    1. @f1frog Indeed. He’s been more reasonable with SC calls than Masi & even more importantly, he hasn’t gone for red in situations safe enough for SC, like Masi in all bar one (Grosjean’s fiery exit) in-race red occasions in the last two seasons.

  4. Honestly I think it has been a disaster, they are new to f1 but we have had some embarrassing moments already like at jeddah when the race director tripped on himself whilst ch

    1. ecking if the tarmac was slippy.
      Concisively the new dutch director has been behind bad penalties, bad calls on red flags, sc and vsc. He is not the steward but he still has a role in these bad and inconsistent penalties. The inconsistency is surely going to come to the fore when the leaders clash. I don’t believe the leaders are going to get petty penalties.

      1. He’s not Dutch, he’s German

    2. @peartree Nothing wrong with him slightly tripping on himself, but I disagree with you on the general situation.
      Some reds in Imola were unnecessarily hasty, but otherwise, nothing wrong, nor with SC & VSC calls.
      You seem unnecessarily pessimistic.

    3. @peartree

      …been a disaster…

      Your bar for “disaster” is very, very low.

      1. @justrhysism Disaster in waiting, kind of what I meant. please justify that tec pro omission in miami and that vsc. please tell me he is not as incompetent as Masi.

  5. 5 races does not a season make. I’ll hold my opinion on Niels Wittich a little longer, because don’t forget last season’s DTM finale was equally as farcical under his watch!
    The big test is now how well the transition to Eduardo Freitas is. He’s definitely drawn the short straw and will likely have unfair parallels drawn with Wittich, as if he is only the stand in rather than the equal party.

  6. I’ve overall been happy with the present situation & I’m sure Freitas will also fare decently well.
    I’ve also been happier with TL enforcement.
    However, lap time invalidation for driving over gravel or grass in competitive sessions is entirely redundant since driving over those materials is automatically slower than staying on track.
    Additionally, an off-track excursion isn’t advantageous just because of happening in a competitive session rather than non-competitive (FPs) ones.
    The cases thus far are Tsunoda in Melbourne’s QLF at T11, offs at Variante Alta, including Mick’s spin that only further guaranteed him being slower on that lap he would’ve been using the track.
    Tamburello in QLF despite the relevant driver(s) additionally aborting a push lap.
    Wittich was entirely okay with Bahrain’s slippery surface material at T9, penultimate & last corner exits.
    He should’ve equally been okay with gravel & grass in Melbourne & Imola, as driving over these materials is even more disadvantageous than a slippery surface material besides curbing.
    Masi’s enforcement level was over-excessive in the last two seasons.
    He also did lap time invalidation redundantly at places, including non-competitive sessions.
    However, he never did so for corner exits or runoffs with gravel & or grass.

    1. I get what you are saying about invalidating lap times when no advantage is gained @jerejj, but there is a clear reason for invalidating ALL lap times when cars go off track in the lap – it avoids getting drawn into deliberations on what, how much and whether an advantage was gained.
      It is the consequence of being consistent – go over the white line and the lap is annuled is clear and easy to understand (but only as long as that is the case consitently so on every track for every driver). A bit like how in Indycar the thing with causing flags means you lose all lap times. It solves the issue of having to even consider any intent, it sucks but it is easy to understand for everyone.

      1. @bascb Nothing complicated really in only invalidating whenever actual advantage has got gained or where tarmac runoff is in place at corner exits, etc., but I get what you mean.

        1. Yes, the point is that any evaluation of whether there was an advantage or whether the surface would help or not automatically means there will be discussion and disagreements.

          After all this is the sport where a team was spared a penalty because they were able to claim that the bulge of the tyre wall seen from above would still have been a smithen “on” the white line to avoid a penalty for their driver (was it Vettel in Monza a few years back?) @jerejj.

  7. Lol, with every article about last season Keith still has to emphasize how bitter he is over the result.
    Maybe its time to get over it.

  8. And yet we’ve yet to see or hear any more about the (de facto stewards replacement) race control at FIA HQ…

    I’m not sure anyone is actually asking for the additional race control so it will be interesting to see if they actually end up implementing it, after they’ve dealt with more pressing issues like pushing drivers to remove any body piercings at least. If they don’t, would that show acceptance that Masi was in fact the main problem and that the new directors have fixed it? Even if they do put it in say for next season without any intervening controversy, would that say that although the race director change is a success it’s only a band-aid and that they don’t trust the stewards to adjudicate the rules correctly regardless?

    If it was important it should’ve been implemented already, cynics would say that as it’s not and taking into account that the stewards have not been admonished in any way that the proposal was more likely to have been pushed out simply as cover for Masi/FIA after the AB fiasco.

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