"Who?" a lot of people asked when Michael Masi was presented as the new race director ahead of the 2019 Australian Grand Prix. Veteran Charlie Whiting had unexpectedly passed away and Masi would take his place for the rest of the season. Watching races, judging what should and shouldn't be investigated by the stewards and inspecting circuits are just some of the tasks Masi has to do race after race.
Replacing someone as experienced and respected as Whiting is no easy task, but Masi was certainly no last-minute find. In the Supercars championship, Masi already was a staple on the grid, but the Aussie was already fazing out from the job, as he regularly joined Whiting from 2018 onwards, perhaps to learn from the Brit to eventually take over his job. While his appointment was sudden, he had already started preparing for the promotion for a year.
Formula 1, Formula 2 and Formula 3
At first, Masi was set to take over as director in Formula 2 and Formula 3: Whiting was also directing these races up until that point. So, Masi was already going to be busy in 2019 but seemed ready for the challenge that awaited him.
Masi won’t be alone handing out penalties, but he will be the first person to be criticised when the stewards make a decision. Regardless of whether Masi actually made the call or not.
Teams have patience
Not only Masi was shocked by suddenly having to take over the tasks of Whiting, but the team principals could hardly fathom it either. Since all of them also know that it takes time to adapt to such a difficult job, it seemed as if every team boss was not being too critical in 2019. Mattia Binotto, brand new team boss at Ferrari, was extremely positive about the work of the race management during the 2019 season. The Italian thought Masi 'didn't make a single mistake', which certainly wasn't easy given the circumstances. Given Sebastian Vettel’s major bust-up following his penalty in Canada, it is quite significant for Ferrari to say this.
For Masi, the year was complicated by a number of rare incidents on the track, the most important being the crash and death of F2 driver Anthoine Hubert.
Faith in Masi
With the 2019 season in the books, it remains to be seen what the next step of the FIA will be. Masi has taken a well-deserved holiday after a chaotic and turbulent year, but will once again play the role of race director in 2020. Logically, the teams' expectations will be higher now as the Aussie starts his second season.
According to Masi himself, he'll never be able to fill Charlie Whiting's shoes, but fulfilling the function of race director in the best possible way is something the Aussie is happy to do.