Michael Masi said it was surreal when he was asked to succeed Charlie Whiting, the Formula One race director of the sport’s governing body, who died days before the opening grand prix in Australia in March.
Whiting, who died from a pulmonary embolism, had worked in the sport for decades. Herbie Blash, the former Formula One deputy race director, said Whiting, his longtime colleague, was irreplaceable.
Masi joined the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile at the start of the year as the Formula Two and Formula Three deputy race director. He was also to work as deputy race director at several Formula One events this year and suddenly became Whiting’s replacement.
“Yes, I was thrown in at the deep end,” Masi said in an interview. “But, on the other hand, I was very fortunate the F.I.A. and Charlie himself had created an amazing team of people.
“Without that entire team, the weekend in Melbourne would not have run as smoothly as it did, and every event thereafter. Without everyone around me, I would have been climbing more than Mount Everest.”
Masi has worked in motorsports for many years in his homeland of Australia, including roles in Super Touring Cars, Supercars and the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport.
At the start of last year, Whiting asked Masi, who was deputy race director for Supercars in Australia, to work as Formula One deputy race director at a few grands prix.
Whiting’s death pushed Masi into the spotlight. As race director, Masi oversees the logistics of a grand prix weekend, ensuring all cars, tracks and drivers conform to F.I.A. regulations before, during and after a race.
“Charlie’s shoes will never be filled,” Masi said. “They were a set of shoes that were made for one and very much tailored to the one individual. When people ask me about replacing Charlie, I say, ‘No, I’ve become the Formula One race director and safety delegate.’ No one will ever replace Charlie.”
But after five months in the role, Masi is making his own mark.
“After being in the sport for so long, Charlie had a broad understanding of everything, years of experience, something at an F1 level I don’t have,” Masi said. “I’ve been doing everything to gain an understanding of how things work and what things work. You do things in your own way, with your own approach. That’s what makes each and every one of us, whatever we do, a little bit different.”
Garry Connelly, a chairman of the stewards in Formula One, has known Masi for 20 years. Connelly said Masi’s “great attention to detail” and being “an extremely hard worker” brought him to Whiting’s attention and made him the ideal candidate as a replacement.
“When I moved the World Rally Championship event from Western Australia to the east coast of Australia, I put Michael in charge of a lot of logistical things,” Connelly said in an interview.
“His work effort was amazing. He would work 20-hour days, be totally committed. With everything he did, you knew he would be totally reliable. Once Charlie and Herbie got to know him, they saw that same skill set that I saw in Michael.”
Connelly sees a lot of Whiting in Masi. “He is just like Charlie to work with — very direct, which is what you need,” he said.
“You need someone who has an understanding of the situation, who can express their views to you, who will be honest and frank with you, and that’s what we’ve got. It’s what we had with Charlie, and it’s what we’ve got with Michael.”
As part of his role, Masi has had to develop relationships with the Formula One team principals and drivers to ensure they get to know him and his methods.
Mattia Binotto, the team principal of Ferrari, said Masi had performed credibly. “It’s not been easy for him,” Binotto said. “In Australia first, with no advice, he had to jump into the role.
“Since then, he’s been doing a really good job. From a race director’s point of view, I don’t think there have been any mistakes.”
Masi has had to learn on the job. During the weekend of the Belgian Grand Prix in August, Anthoine Hubert was killed in a Formula Two race.
“I’m not going to deny, it was a very sad, very challenging, confronting moment and not something anyone ever wants to see,” Masi said.
“There have now been a number of incidents over the course of the year that have increased my knowledge bank in how to deal with different situations that arise.”
Masi has drawn on advice from Whiting and many others during his career.
“I’ve been very fortunate that in my professional life I’ve had some fantastic mentors in different areas of business and different areas of the sport,” Masi said. “You take bits and pieces from everyone and then develop your own style and way of going about things, but all those bits have molded me.
“The biggest thing in spending time with Charlie, and we used to catch up once or twice a year, be it in Melbourne or otherwise, was the way to deal with circumstances and people.”
Masi describes himself as someone who strives for perfection.
“I can happily say I am my own worst critic,” he said. “I am hardest on myself. The one who probably beats himself up about various situations is me.
“I don’t like mistakes, even if it’s a little typo in a document. For now, I will continue to do my best at each event.”
Connelly felt the drivers would welcome that. “Charlie was always their guardian angel, and Michael will be the same,” he said.