August 16, 2022

The changes the world motorsport governing body is going through could have massive implications for Formula 1.

In the early months of Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s presidency, the FIA ​​seems less aligned with F1 than at any time in recent memory.

Personalities from F1 itself, teams and drivers have all clashed with the FIA ​​in one way or another.

There has been dissatisfaction with the president’s apparent interference and micromanagement in F1, concerns that changes to improve race direction are not working well enough and concern that ‘there simply aren’t enough officials at the required level.

In its greatest form, as previously envisioned on this website, there is serious consideration within F1 that the FIA ​​could be better utilized in a more marginalized capacity.

But even seemingly minor clashes have substance. Requiring that demanding rules for drivers wearing jewelry be followed is acceptable in principle, but there is still no clarity on the obvious contradictions between the FIA’s reasons (that jewelry is a safety hazard) and the rule itself (only chains and metal piercings are strictly prohibited, items like rings or bracelets are technically allowed).

The FIA ​​is the arbiter of F1 and referees are rarely popular. The FIA ​​is unlikely to have an abundance of supporters.

But last year’s controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a painful but necessary lesson that the FIA ​​was not just a neutral, divisive figure – it was exacerbating problems within the world championship with a confusing approach to race direction and an inconsistent steward.

In the months following Abu Dhabi, senior F1 officials were reportedly very frustrated by the reaction of Ben Sulayem’s organization. It was too slow and there were fears that the promised transparency would turn out to be rather opaque.

The FIA ​​is in a period of reform under Ben Sulayem and that was, in general, widely welcomed at the start of this year. Teams also publicly insist that the FIA ​​needs time to improve, while drivers generally support Ben Sulayem, despite still not being big fans of his organization’s F1 setup.

Some of the changes have yet to make a big impression – the new race control assistance system in Geneva is only in its first phase (which is nowhere near the level of assistance it should eventually be capable of) , according to the vision of Ben Sulayem) and the loss of Peter Bayer, for example, seems to have surprised some.

Bayer has been widely praised for its calming presence which has often been able to iron out differences. And although he has been replaced as General Secretary by the very, very capable Shaila-Ann Rao, there has been no official explanation as to what happens to his high-ranking positions in the FIA. F1 as Head of Single-Seater Affairs or Executive Director of FIA F1. .

As for the new race direction itself, it’s clear that the newly installed rotating pair of Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas have plenty of experience, but they’ve already garnered their fair share of criticism.

Freitas oversaw arguably the most questionable moment so far, with his response to the sudden rain moments before the start of the Monaco Grand Prix.

He delayed the start and then demanded that everyone start on wet tires – which sources said was the result of a debate within race control over the rules and how to enforce them. After the race, several teams expressed confusion over how it had been handled and Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said it should be reviewed.

Monaco presented another example of F1’s dissatisfaction with the performance of the FIA ​​at the moment. Ferrari protested against Red Bull after the race because Max Verstappen’s left front and rear tires were to the left of the yellow pit exit line.

But it wasn’t just an attempt to get Red Bull punished – the FIA ​​was also the target.

Ferrari argued that the race director’s event notes – that the driver “must stay to the right of the continuous yellow line at the pit exit when leaving the pits and stay to the right of that line until it ends after turn 1” – meant no part of the car could touch the pit exit line.

Except that the rules regarding exiting the pit lane had changed for 2022 and the race director’s event notes not only didn’t reflect that, but they squarely contradicted the International Sporting Code.

Ferrari’s protest was dismissed, and then in Baku there was a confusing sequence of multiple changes to pit lane entry instructions to ensure the ISC was followed correctly.

“There were inconsistencies in the decisions,” Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto said in Azerbaijan.

“It’s one of the decisions we’re not happy with. We protested, I think we knew what the outcome would have been, but I think it was right for us to protest just to show at least that we didn’t agree with the decision at the time, and we still believe it was the wrong decision.

“I think they’re already discussing whether maybe we should go back to the ISC to make it right.

Motor racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Saturday Monte Carlo, Monaco

“It was nothing against Red Bull, honestly. I think it’s a fair fight between the two teams. Happy to continue the fair fight.

“It was more for us to show the FIA ​​that, at the moment, we are not happy with the type of decisions they are making.

The fact that Ferrari is effectively targeting the FIA’s level of refereeing shows how tricky the governing body’s reputation is at the moment. And Ferrari aren’t the only team with concerns – several have privately indicated they have doubts about the direction the FIA ​​is heading.

A team boss found it particularly amusing to hear that a proposal from Ben Sulayem to address the lack of F1-standard race directors (which became evident when looking for a replacement for ousted Michael Masi) was to suggest that rally co-drivers would be a good option because they are so organized in their disciplines.

In many ways, the FIA ​​is in a no-win position. And while that hasn’t been an entirely convincing start for the new regime or its F1 structure, it’s still very early in the process.

To judge Ben Sulayem, his new race directors, and the organization as a whole now – when it could still evolve a lot in the years to come – would be premature.

Perhaps the biggest sign of hope comes from a conclusion of the report that finally came out on the Abu Dhabi GP last year: “A new F1 sporting director will be recruited.”

This new recruit is François Sicard, best known as a key element in the creation of the World Series by Renault and a figurehead of the ultra-successful junior single-seater operation DAMS.

Sicard has started this new role, which will likely absorb much of Bayer’s duties. It’s a very good nomination by the FIA, because he earned a lot of respect from the people of F1 without ever having a position in the championship.

He is a respectful, experienced and committed person, who is said to be realistic about the magnitude of the task ahead.

And that’s a big deal for the FIA, exemplified by a single protest from Ferrari acknowledging the damage done to the FIA’s reputation and the work it needs to do to convince skeptics that it lives up to the standards of the highest championship it regulates.