‘No regulator in the world will be popular’ with a title fight this intense – Masi

2021 Qatar Grand Prix

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Recent controversies over decisions made by Formula 1’s stewards have arisen largely due to the intensity of the world championship fight between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi believes.

The stewards have been called on to make a series of high-stakes calls in recent races as the title battle has tightened up. Hamilton was excluded from qualifying in Brazil after his rear wing failed a technical inspection; a contentious incident between the pair during the race was not investigated and Mercedes’ request for it to be reviewed was turned down; Verstappen was given a five-place grid penalty for failing to slow for yellow flags in Qatar.

The controversies have prompted some to suggest F1’s rotating group of stewards should be replaced with a single, permanent body. However Masi is not convinced decisions would be viewed any more favourably if they were made by the same group of stewards at every race weekend.

“There were some wise words about those that operated under a permanent stewards panel that thought that there was perceived bias when there was a permanent stewards,” he said.

Masi said he has confidence in “the stewarding that we have now with the pool of four chairman that we share, the pool of driver stewards and all of that, the way all the chairmen meet regularly.”

He believes the intensity of the championship fight is the reason the stewards’ decisions are facing greater scrutiny and criticism. The title fight is the closest since long before Masi became race director at the beginning of 2019.

“We need to take a step back and remember it’s the first time in a long time we are in a real championship fight between two amazing drivers, two fantastic teams,” he said. “As a regulator, last time I saw, there’s no regulator in the world that’s going to be popular.

“So regardless, if you’re a referee, if you’re a regulator of any sport, that’s part of the role that we fulfil and from our perspective that there will always be slight differences. But at the end of the day, the stewards are there to make those.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was given a formal warning after criticising the marshal whose yellow flag led to Verstappen’s penalty. He believes the long delays in some recent decisions by the stewards are a result of them taking extra care to ensure their rulings are beyond criticism.

“It is an unusual amount of time but I think they’re simply with what’s at stake I think there’s huge scrutiny going into each of these decisions. So I think they’re very conscious they want to make the right decision that doesn’t leave themselves open to scrutiny, so therefore they’re taking the time to come to these conclusions.”

Have the stewards taken too long to rule on recent F1 controversies? Read Dieter Rencken’s analysis in today’s RacingLines column on RaceFans

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54 comments on “‘No regulator in the world will be popular’ with a title fight this intense – Masi”

  1. I think fans will remember that the regulator actually played a significant role in making this battle intense :-D

    1. He seems to make the case that he was “popular” at the beginning of the season.

  2. Difference is the reasoning. Sure tennis pros aren’t happy with the umpires calls at time, but the umpire will stick to their reasons and don’t budge.

    You don’t see a tennis umpire going with the electronic call sometimes and sometimes over ruling it. You definitely don’t see them going with what they think is going to be least criticised. They use the electronic call full stop.

    I still don’t understand why that can’t be applied to F1. If 4 wheels go off the track it should be a penalty and that’s the reasoning they stick to at every race at every corner. Instead they’re looking at the type of corner, the type of run off, and now they’re saying they’re deciding purely by instinct or whatever the stewards think is right, with absolutely no scrutinisable reasoning whatsoever.

    It’s all over the shop. It’s unbelievable that the FIA is fine with the lack of genuine reason that goes into whether an incident is investigated or not. I’m amazed Mercedes aren’t taking it even further.

    1. You don’t see a tennis umpire going with the electronic call sometimes and sometimes over ruling it. You definitely don’t see them going with what they think is going to be least criticised. They use the electronic call full stop.

      Exactly @skipgamer

      Sure, there might be debate over whether the ball was over the line or still just on it in those. But the line is the line and there are no – Heck this is a tight battle and we are looking forward to a 5 setter, so whatever let Nadal just get a point from being out a bit and then Djockovic can just win and it feels satisfactory at the end.

    2. And funnily enough, that started in Bahrain with Hamilton abusing track limits 27 times. Then when Max asks if he can do the same thing, the stewards clamp down at that very abuse of track limits. We are having an exciting championship, and whoever wins will be deserving. This has been the most entertaining inter-team battle since Red Bull dominance.

    3. They use the electronic call full stop.

      I still don’t understand why that can’t be applied to F1. If 4 wheels go off the track it should be a penalty and that’s the reasoning they stick to at every race at every corner.

      So in Brazil, Max and Lewis both get penalties for 4 wheels going off the track? I get it for normal racing laps but stewards are still needed to decide if Max pushed Lewis wide or both braked too late to make the corner and stay on track.

  3. The FIA are quite scrupulous in publishing their decisions and documents, however, the stewarding system including referrals is very opaque and not open to any scrutiny. What would ameliorate the perception of bias surrounding some of these decisions is to publish not only the final decision, but the referral email or memo, the decision discussion by way of stenographic notes and the precedents used where appropriate.

    When Charlie Whiting was in charge, the decisions were just as opaque but by and large, they were more consistent due to his memory in referrals and he always had a precedent at the front of his mind when discussing the incident post race. Michael Masi has very little historical experience of the sport to draw on and is reliant on others, but at the same time, is beholden, whether he likes it or not, to the commercial rights holders. The relationship between Bernie and Charlie was much more simple and aligned than the current relationship between Rights Holder and Race Director.

    It has been said already that the fans know that the race is as tight as it is because of a fair amount of questionable decision making by the stewards and that there has been a call for a permanent stewards panel for years, not just because of the last few races being perceived as biased towards one team or another. I don’t believe that permanent stewards are the way forward. I believe that transparent process and visibility of reasoning are the first step to improving the current system as a fair amount of the decisions made of late appear completely arbitrary without sufficient context.

    Publish the referral, publish discussion emails or radio transcripts to the stewards in deciding to investigate of not, publish the transcript of the stewards deliberations and publish the precedents from previous decisions. Make the process totally transparent and then perhaps, Michael Masi will be able to state the above without any perception of incompetence, or a*** covering being given.

  4. Excuses? From the Race Director. Ridiculous.
    More than ever before, whatever the season. Never so many inconsistent decisions & rulings.

  5. Honestly, I think these are just poor excuses from Masi. Either he and his panel of stewards need to form a rule book among themselves that applies to all drivers (contenders or not), or we should just replace the stewards with some AI algorithms that will do a better job. I don’t think Charlie came under this much fire even though he saw some equally intense championship fights. Masi needs to step up or get out.

  6. Jonathan Parkin
    24th November 2021, 8:26

    F1 seems very over regulated in recent times. When I started watched the sport the list of offences you could commit in a race was as follows;

    1. Speeding in the pit lane
    2. Ignoring blue flags
    3. Illegally overtaking by going off the track or by retaining your position or ignoring yellow flags
    4. Reversing in the pits
    5. Leaving the pits under a red light

    Offences 1-3 were dealt with by 10 second Stop-Go Penalty, 4-5 were the black flag

    We didn’t have track limits shenanigans every round because we had grass and gravel

    If you transgressed in practice or qualifying one of your lap times was deleted. It moved you down the grid, but you still had a lap time next to your name instead of Grid Penalty which we have now

    1. well your last point i think is less important, it’s all about the TV graphics that FOM chooses to use, just because it says Grid Penalty doesn’t mean they don’t have a lap time to their name . and their starting position is still determined based on that lap time

  7. Jay (@slightlycrusty)
    24th November 2021, 8:41

    If they were unpopular because of their rigid and unyielding application of the rules, that would be one thing. But they’re unpopular because they declare in Mexico that “crowding is strictly prohibited”, then claim in Brazil that “Let them race is the overriding principle”, then throw a hissy fit when Mercedes politely asks for a review, which should be their completely uncontroversial right of appeal. And finally, when the drivers beg for clarification, they get nothing other than “don’t expect consistency”.

    I don’t want to see a permanent panel of stewards, but the current system isn’t working: the stewards are (literally) amateurs and Masi has the backbone of a jellyfish. The whole system needs to be professionalised, you don’t get amateurs refereeing World Cup matches. Message to F1: learn from other sports.

  8. I agree with Masi that stewards’ position is unenviable. Of course they’ll receive criticism from some of the fans, no matter what they do. There will always be those who want stewards to ignore rules and “let them fight”.

    However, they should nevertheless do their job and stick to the rules and ignore the fact that Verstappen and Hamilton are fighting for the championship. There can’t be one set of rules (or lack of rules) for those who are fighting for the championship and another set of rules for those who aren’t.

    1. Exactly. The fight for the championship started at the first race not just the last 3 or 4.

  9. Pierluigi Collina: *laughts in italian*

  10. petebaldwin (@)
    24th November 2021, 9:08

    The close title fight certainly makes things more difficult so I’d be willing to say they are doing an absolutely terrible job in difficult circumstances.

    The problem is that the close title fight also means that their decisions matter more than normal. The fact that they are caving under pressure and are making worse decisions than normal is threatening to ruin an exciting title fight.

    The biggest worry is that they clearly don’t understand the rules themselves – if they did it would be a simple task to explain them to the drivers but they can’t.

  11. I still don’t quite get the claim about a permanent steward panel causing bias versus changing panel.
    How exactly? Somewhat contradictory.

    1. If a rotating panel of stewards were biased, it would only be for one event at a time…
      Next event would have different stewards, with or without their own personal ‘biases.’

      Permanent stewards may be more open to becoming ingrained into a particular (not necessarily ‘correct’) interpretation that would repeat itself throughout the entire season. This may appear externally as a bias, or may actually be a bias.
      Rotating provides the opportunity for more balanced interpretations, simply through an increased range of inputs.

      1. If that is a problem depends on the type of bias: towards interpreting the rules in a specific way? Not necessarily a problem. It might not be 100%, but it’s the same for all.

        A bias for or against specific drivers, teams or nationalities (Jean-Marie Balestre springs to mind)? THAT would be a huge problem.

  12. If the regulator in question can’t even establish the basic rules of conduct it’s completely understandable.

    Imagine that with every other sport, one still has to agree during the event what the actual size of the pitch is, what out of bounds is, what the interaction between competitors should be etc.
    With such a scenario in every sport the regulator would be under pressure.

    Get the basics right and people would have a lot more respect for your rulings…

  13. Roberto Giacometti
    24th November 2021, 9:47

    With all the money that is floating around in Formula One , and the prestige and importance attached to winning the Drivers and Constructors Championships, you would think that the logical thing would be to have the ONE PANEL OF STEWARDS AND ONE TEAM OF MARSHALLS that go to each and every race.
    It really is farcical that with drivers , designers, engineers, managers , promoters, F1, the FIA all earning millions of dollars , fans paying hundreds ( and thousands) for tickets and corporate packages, yet the whole shebang relies on people VOLUNTEERING their time and not getting paid a zac to marshall each event., or else it would not happen!!
    Ridiculous !!!

    1. yes but if you one member of that panel was biased against one driver , they would be biased against them at every event…
      the fact that they are rotating ensures that this can’t happen

    2. The issue with one set of marshals is that if you want a single set of marshals, it has to be their only job. But that’s a job for only around 20 weekends a year, yet needs to command a full time salary per marshal. That’s simply not sustainable.

  14. All we ask is for understandable rules, applied consistently to all tracks and all participants.

    It’s really not rocket surgery.

    1. Just Brain science.

  15. I agree on this one with Masi but that’s not the issue, we had questionable decision with the drivers outside of the title fight.

  16. He would do better not to open his mouth, each comment more laughable than the last!.

  17. It’s time for the FIA to pay the marshalls and other staff and keep them gp after gp, instead of relying on local amateurs.

    1. Are you blaming the track side marshal for showing a yellow where a yellow was due? These guys and gals are well trained volunteers. They may not be paid but they do it for the love of the sport and that is a lot less corruptive than money.

  18. My issue with the Interlagos incident is that it seems to fit into the fake news environment we now live in. We’re asked to disbelieve what we could all plainly see: Verstappen deliberately blocking Hamilton, going off track to do so. This just struck me watching Schumacher-Villeneuve at Jerez 1997. Schumacher edges into Villeneuve passing him on the inside and gets knocked out instead, sliding into the gravel, ending the race. Even so, he was disqualified from the entire championship! The intent is far less obvious than MV’s deliberate block (with the implied risk of ‘try passing and you’re out of the race’). But FIA had no problem issuing the maximum penalty for the incident. Yet FIA stewards in São Paulo 2021 basically told us, twice, ‘nothing to see there.’ It’s untrue. And we’re all supposed to swallow it in that ‘fake news’ way with all sides knowing it’s untrue, but, with the implicit retort from FIA, what are you going to do about it? Our truth prevails.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree. The whole thing stinks and is blatantly just to generate clicks and views.
      It’s either a fair sport or it isn’t. At the moment, the latter is the more believable option.

      1. @sham It’s the dishonesty that gets me most. I can actually understand Verstappen’s move, given how ultra-competitive he is, but it’s based on years of FIA allowing him to make these moves (especially post-2019 and the Leclerc shove when FIA/Masi announced a new ‘philosophy’). They’ve rewritten the rules of engagement on his behalf for commercial not sporting reasons. That just becomes clear when you look back a few decades at what was allowed and how decisions were made. It’s essentially unsustainable though. If everyone treats track limits now as Verstappen did at Interlagos, it will be chaotic and frankly absurd. Hence the FIA mandate, reported by Hamilton, that ‘other stewards may come to a different conclusion.’ They take the other drivers, others teams, us spectators as what?

    2. Frankly I absolutely don’t agree with the Jerez 1997 comparison and drawing a line to fake news seems a bit of a stretch to me.
      Verstappen combined two of his trademark moves: “Whenever you brake I gonna brake later” and “if you don’t wanna crash get out of the way”.
      So he didn’t try to take Hamilton out, he only tried to stay ahead at all costs. That’s neither clean nor fair racing but at least he gives his opponent the chance to live for an other day.
      So it’s more nuanced than just a plain foul play like Schumacher did in Jerez.
      His only intent was to take Villeneuve out of the race and Villeneuve had no chance to avoid the crash because he was trapped on the inside. Considering his penalty: In hindsight it was a non penalty too They didn’t even take his wins off him and the championship was lost anyway.

      But i’m all with you that if all drivers would behave like that, the track limits will become even more a farce, than they already are. The FIA has to do something about it. Take Montoya as an example. He did the same like Verstappen. No penalty back than as well.
      https://youtu.be/QUeuSVvS5oM (at 1:20)
      That’s how Verstappen should have ended up too if only it was proper gravel instead of endless runoff. I’m sure he’d understood the lession better.

      1. By that logic, if the guy who is on the inside gave the outside guy enough room on the outside, he can avoid an accident. So, why was HAM penalized in Silverstone? VER could have avoided the accident as he had sufficient space on the outside and need not turn in.

        If HAM had chosen to stay on the track by turning as if the other car did not exist, it would have ended his race.

        1. @macademianut By FIA logic, Verstappen would then have received a penalty for causing an accident because Hamilton decided not to avoid one. Or maybe not? Maybe they’d have given the penalty to Hamilton for turning in. Having zero faith in Masi or the stewards, I kind of expect the perverse worst.

          1. @david-br I don’t understand why FIA will only penalize someone only if the outcome is bad for the other driver.

            This is more like an attempted murder, where the victim managed to survive. For that even in law, you have a penalty/punishment.

            I agree with you — that not knowing if FIA would have penalized HAM for turning in or VER for not stopping early — that is an entirely mess created by Masi’s inconsistency. And that’s really sad for the sport.

      2. @roadrunner Was Schumacher turning in any different to Albon turning in on Hamilton in Brazil? Or Verstappen at Copse? It’s only because we know Schumacher would benefit that we presume intent (I’m not denying he did so intentionally, he seemed to admit it himself some time after).

        I think the fake news comparison is valid given that Masi himself said he thought about giving MV a B+W flag for the incident but simultaneously denied it was anything but ‘hard racing’. Verstappen himself admitted he drove off track on purpose for ‘safety’ reasons, yet we supposed to believe it was a driver error? The corner was monitored for track limit violations, yet MV could go metres wide to defend? Many of the drivers complain that they don’t know what the racing regulations are any more, but FIA/Masi just say ‘other stewards may reach different conclusions’ – implying that São Paulo was an exception because it involved the title rivals? Nothing adds up.

        1. Well, I think Schumacher steered blatantly into someone who was already half a car length ahead of him while Albon was way in front of Hamilton in Brazil and just didn’t expect/see him there.
          Silverstone is not comparable because it’s a much faster corner. So it’s easy to misjudge braking and turning in from a shallower line as well as judging how much space the car on the inside needs.

          Don’t get me wrong, I think the decision not to investigate Verstappen’s move in Brazil was wrong, but at some point a race result has to be official.
          Only after very severe unsportsmanlike behavior (or technical infringements of course) any further investigation should be possible and not after each decision, right or wrong, the stewards make during a race.
          So imho the FIAs decision not to reopen the whole process was right – although the initial decision was wrong.
          I agree with you that the stewarding is inconsistent and needs approvement. At the same time the explanations by Masi or the FIA at times appear to be desperate but he’s trying to protect his stewards instead of throwing them under the bus after each wrong decision. That’s why I didn’t like the term fake news in that context.

      3. @roadrunner there is an irony in using Montoya as your example, because Montoya was especially vocal in the wake of the Brazilian GP when he complained “Why is Max getting away with this and some other guys don’t?”, questioning whether Verstappen was getting “different treatment” to other drivers on the grid for that move and that he would have been penalised for trying that sort of move against a rival.

        It also has to be said that, unlike yourself, Montoya does seem to be of the opinion that, whilst he thinks Verstappen did have a right to fight hard for his position, he also stated that he thought “Max was going for the crash” – in other words, he seems to think that Verstappen’s behaviour was quite similar to that of Schumacher’s. https://www.motorsport.com/f1/news/montoya-verstappen-brazil-hamilton-incident/6794769/

        1. Thank you for that link. Yeah, I like the irony in that as well.
          As I said, I think the move was dirty and the stewards decision was wrong but I don’t think it was Schumacher-like bad.

      4. @roadrunner

        Verstappen combined two of his trademark moves: “Whenever you brake I gonna brake later” and “if you don’t wanna crash get out of the way”.

        Just going to pose a hypothetical, if you know that, Lewis certainly knows that, so all he has to do is brake too late for the corner and he knows Max will brake later and they will both end up off track and it will look like it was totally Max’s fault. Maybe the stewards made the right decision and neither Max or Lewis would have made the corner? The stewards would have all the brake data and approach speeds and I imagine it would be pretty easy to work out if either was going to make the corner. If this was the case, then they made the exact right call. And Kudos to Lewis for trying it.

  19. This Masi guy is firing distractions left, right and center. People are not asking for permanent stewards, they are asking for permanent rules. Here all he is suggesting is that fairness is to be achieved by having stewards on Red Bull’s payroll for one race, and on Mercedes’ payroll for the next one.

  20. A tight title battle should have nothing to do with the consistency of stewarding decisions. Nothing.

    1. In a perfect world, a tight title battle should have nothing to do with the consistency of stewarding decisions. Nothing.
      Fixed it :)

      1. I think it’s one of the first times I’ve used bold. I know that of course, but Masi to come out and say it is a different matter.

  21. The best way to do your job is to make sure you are no longer needed. The more consistent you get in your decisions, it is worth “automating” those decisions. Currently, I don’t see any effort to this end; rather it’s more inclined towards involving stewards for many more incidents.

    The reason it takes long time to make decisions are that they seem to justify why every case is an exception, when it shouldn’t be. And they go to lengths to justify it — which some believe is equal for thoroughness. They set no precedence for the future.

  22. I watch F1 for the action on track and the intrigue between the teams and drivers off the track. I do not watch F1 for the stewards. But it seems like under Masi’s tenure, the spotlight has begun to shine brighter and brighter in the stewards.

    This last debacle was totally unnecessary and only served to put F1 in a position where it is now forced to try to defend itself against angry fans, angry teams, and angry drivers who are fed up with the inconsistency and the grandstanding from the stewards.

    I get that in an intense championship there will probably be some calls from officials that anger some fans, but what is angering everyone now is that the calls are totally inconsistent. Those are two different things that Masi is confusing in his statement. I don’t know if he is doing it purposely to try to diffuse the argument against the stewarding or if he really just doesn’t get it. If he truly doesn’t get the difference, he has no business being in the position he is in.

    I don’t know if there should be permanent stewards but clearly what they are doing now isn’t working. Everyone but them seems to agree on that. Is it a overly complex rule book? Is it untrained stewards who have no set of standards? I don’t know but I find it hard to believe that the premier motorsport category in the world can’t figure out how to place the focus on the track and not the inconsistency from thr officials.

  23. Regarding Masi’s comments, I guess it depends on whether the regulating body follows the rules or makes them up as they go along

    His comments are ridiculous, and just go to show he is unfit for the role

  24. I don’t think Masi is that naive, he rather looks like he is trying hard to be a spin doctor in a post-truth world, as in “don’t say the truth, it will make you look weak.” Even as such, he is not really up to the role.

  25. Isn’t it telling that Masi cares about “popular” and the “intensity of the competition” – both of which are irrelevant to fair and consistent application of a set of rules?

  26. See that’s exactly the problem, it’s not about being popular. Just apply the actual rules and apply them consistently. Don’t let the stewards come up with bs arguments why they choose not to apply the rules or agreed upon mitigations why they should not be applied.

    1. @f1osaurus OK. So which actual rule would you like the stewards to apply in this instance?

      There is a lot of talk about ‘The Rules’ but not once has anyone produced the rule that was allegedly broken.

      It is the same with ‘consistency’ and ‘precedent’. Both words thrown around without thought to where they are applied. What we and the drivers originally wanted was ‘consistency’ with the actual penalties applied to incidents and that would set a ‘precedent’. Which the FIA have gone to great lengths to ensure there is (i.e. the punishment for speeding in the pitlane is the same from one race to the next).

      Unfortunately this seems to have been conflated with ‘consistency’ with the whether something deserves a penalty or not which will always be open to some level of interpretation. No two corners are the same despite outwardly having some similarities, and each incident should be judged on it’s own merits. There are plenty of similar problems with other sports such as football where, even with VAR, there is still a level of interpretation that goes on. Some penalty decisions are clear others not so much. Just because a ball hits a hand it is not always a hand ball.

      1. @asanator It’s in the overtaking guidelines that the drivers and team bosses refer too. The document itself is not publicly available, but just listen to some interviews and you hear them explain what they are. Or lookup one of the tons of articles and videos that describe them.

        For instance on youtube you can watch Horner explain that the driver half way up along the inside has the racing line and should be given space (when Verstappen drove into Stroll in Portimao). But indeed he will say the exact opposite when it’s Verstappen on the outside and Hamilton on the inside. And even the Stewards come up with random new rules like “he didn’t hit the apex” to negate the fact that a driver owns the racing line and should be given space.

  27. Masi needs to talk less next year and either improve the level of stewarding or stop conflating it publicly with things outside his control. Speaking ahead of, during and after events dropping his opinions whilst hiding behind the pretence that he doesn’t get involved with stewarding decisions whilst demonstrating that he does in fact interfere smacks of little league, bit too village for where F1 is headed.

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