The conclusion of last year’s championship-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix prompted a furious reaction not just from Mercedes, but also many fans and motorsport figures.
FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi took a hotly disputed decision to arrange a hurried restart in which a selected number of lapped cars were permitted to regain the lead lap – only those which separated leader Lewis Hamilton from title rival Max Verstappen. These departures from past practice led to cries of foul play after Hamilton, the race-long leader, was passed by Verstappen immediately after the restart, losing the race and the championship.
Four days later Mercedes backed down from their threat to appeal over the contentious call, which would have thrown Verstappen’s title in doubt. But not before outgoing FIA president Jean Todt sanctioned a detailed review of the incident.
The FIA statement which announced the review did not inspire much confidence. It claimed “significant misunderstanding” by fans – rather than the handling of the race itself – had created “an argument that is currently tarnishing the image of the championship”. Did it intend to sweep the whole thing under the carpet, ignoring the vociferous complaints of many fans and prolonged silence of Hamilton, its biggest star?
On the strength of developments since then, no. Todt’s successor Mohammed Ben Sulayem has entrusted secretary general for sport Peter Bayer (pictured top with Ross Brawn) with handling this sensitive review.
Bayer became the FIA’s secretary general of sport in March 2017 after being nominated by Todt to replace the departing Jean-Louis Valentin. Born in Austria, his earlier career included spells as CEO of the Innsbruck 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games and later of the Ocean Masters monohull sailing class series.
As secretary general for sport, Bayer heads one of the two main pillars of the FIA’s mission – sport and mobility. Overseeing all forms of sport that fall under the FIA’s governance – from karting to hillclimb, rally and rallycross to touring cars and all forms of single-seater formula racing – Bayer has held ultimate responsibility over the team of directors who preside over their respective disciplines. These include Masi as director of single-seater racing and Marek Nawarecki as director of touring cars.
With the directors of each discipline having the most hands-on control over their areas, Bayer’s role has been typically focused more on promoting wider FIA programmes that affect all of the categories under the organisation’s umbrella. In short, Bayer’s mission is to ensure ‘best practice’ is maintained throughout all series and championships run in the FIA’s name, from the safety of all competitors, officials and spectators to ensuring rules and protocols are followed to the letter.
An example of this is the FIA’s annual International Stewards Programme – a four-day event acting as a conference of sorts for all those involved with stewarding of FIA-sanctioned race events. A special ‘competitors’ panel’ held as part of last year’s event saw Masi host a seminar on stewarding which featured Carlos Sainz Jnr, Jean-Eric Vergne and Lucas Di Grassi alongside other notable figures within motorsport.
“An annual coming together is vital for stewards and race directors to develop the exchange and discuss cases,” Bayer said at the conclusion of the programme….