Monday, May 20, 2024

The errors the FIA must not repeat in 2023 after completing F1 race control overhaul

The FIA’s announcement yesterday of a restructuring of its Formula 1 operation is intended to draw a line under a process which began in response to the controversial conclusion to the 2021 world championship.

Yesterday the FIA declared “the reorganisation of the Formula 1 departments is now complete and will be in place ahead of the 2023 season”. A key development is that the role of FIA F1 sporting director, which was announced last March, has been filled. Significantly, the position has been taken by Steve Nielsen, who has four decades of experience in the series and was most recently the sporting director for Formula 1 itself.

Nielsen is now the FIA’s F1 sporting directorFor F1, it looks like unfortunate timing for Nielsen’s departure to coincide with motorsport director Ross Brawn’s exit. However RaceFans understands the series proffered Nielsen to the FIA in order to improve the performance of its race control division. This is a telling sign of the dynamic between the commercial arm of F1, headed by Liberty Media, and the FIA which governs its enormously popular series. F1 is evidently keen that the FIA’s drive to improve its administration succeeds, and that the benefit of it will be felt during 2023.

It’s not hard to imagine why. The FIA may have had no choice other than to replace Masi, but doing so was never going to be a cure-all for the underlying problems identified in its own report. Although referees’ decisions are always going to provoke debate, and while there were some improvements in race administration last year, there were also still too many problems.

The new race direction team installed in 2022 won praise from drivers for some of its policies, notably clarifying the grey area of track limits by introducing a hard-and-fast rule: The line is the boundary, no exceptions. This may not have ended arguments over track limits – some errors were spotted too late to be acted upon in time, as in Austria – but it was a clearer system than the messy arrangement which went before. Clearer guidelines regarding racing incidents were also issued and largely followed.

On other occasions the FIA was quick to react to errors by implementing new procedures. Drivers were angered by the decision to send a recovery vehicle onto the track during a Safety Car period in heavy rain at Suzuka, but a swift and detailed report was produced and a new warning system introduced immediately.

Moreover, not all apparent cases of errors by race control during 2022 were necessarily that. Race management were criticised both for delaying the start in Monaco in anticipation of heavy rain and not delaying the start in Japan despite heavy rain. At Monza they were pilloried for ending the race using a Safety Car, but the slower than expected recovery of a crashed car left them no alternative under the rules which on that occasion were followed, unlike in Abu Dhabi the year before.

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