Many believe that former Formula 1 Race Director Michael Masi was made a scapegoat in the aftermath of the blundering at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finale, but FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem says it had more to do with the toxicity of social media.
The story of how the Australian messed up the sport’s biggest night isx well told, the F1 title decided controversially, and still a bone of contention, particularly for Lewis Hamilton fans who feel their driver was robbed on the night with Max Verstappen ending up the beneficiary, aka World Champion.
What erupted was a disgrace to the sport and its so-called fans, social media went haywire as #DigitalMaggots emerged to further sully a downright awful mess by the FIA, starting with Masi mishandling of those final decisive laps, which thereafter unacceptably included death threats, unacceptable hateful abuse and sheer criminal behavior by an agitating few.
Since that night, Ben Sulayem as President has been tasked to sort out the F1 race direction, while turning around the laborious FIA ‘ship’ that Jean Todt had sailed into a sandbank. In other words, taking ownership of the sport as is the governing body’s right.
Thus to sort out F1 ‘refereeing’ problems, two RDs were assigned to the role – Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich. – which was never going to be ideal. But the stakes were never as high in 2022 as on that title-deciding night at Yas Marina a year earlier and it worked, sort of.
“I’d talked to him at the beginning. There were human errors there, and I felt that he also wanted to just not go further, because of what he got from social media, the toxic social media. I spoke to him, and it was unfair also to him. The FIA was always supportive.”
Ben Sulayem: We need to take a stand against social media abuse
The FIA, under Ben Sulayem, uses special AI programs and state-of-the-art algorithms to combat the online scourge, where over 50% of ‘followers’ are fake and the bigger the following the more fake profiles, as in the case of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen; F1’s most followed drivers on social media.
Ben Sulayem revealed that the problem runs deep and beyond the drivers and teams: “This is the same thing that’s happening to Silvia [Bellot, FIA steward], again to some of our members: threats.
“I got some threats also, to reverse the results, but I didn’t take them seriously but now we stand against the toxic social media that will affect our sport. I am a big believer that if we don’t take a stand, we might find the damage will be beyond repair for our sport in the future.”
As for the race director role, Ben Sulayem is convinced the solution is to have two RDs, despite the fact that Freitas has stepped back from the role with Wittoch apparently solo in charge, for now.
“There is a process now, and I have a team who is going through a proper process and training for stewarding, and for race directors,” explained Ben Sulayem
“You cannot just have one race director and rely on them. I see that we should prepare the second role. We cannot rely in the biggest discipline that we have or any other discipline. What if something happened? If we are going to sustain motorsport, we have to be ready with training,” concluded the FIA President.