Formula 1

Freitas set to make F1 race director debut in Spain

Niels Wittich, who has done the job for the first five races of the 2022 season, will move into the deputy’s seat for the Barcelona race.

Freitas will then stay in the main role for the following weekend’s race in Monaco, before switching his focus to the Le Mans 24 Hours, which clashes with the next F1 event in Azerbaijan.

After the ousting of Michael Masi the FIA decided that Freitas and Wittich should alternate in the race director and deputy director jobs, with an informal plan for them to do two races on, and two races off.

However, the schedule is compromised by Freitas’s longstanding commitment to the WEC. He missed the opening grand prix of the season in Bahrain and also last weekend’s event in Miami.

On both occasions, FIA veteran Colin Haywood served as deputy to Wittich.

The FIA has been keen to position Wittich and Freitas as in effect being interchangeable and working as a team, and that it doesn’t matter which of them has the main job on a given weekend.

Wittich has clearly stamped his personality on the role in the opening races, adopting a non-nonsense and inflexible approach.

Niels Wittich, Race Director, FIA

Niels Wittich, Race Director, FIA

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

His message that rules are black and white and are there to be followed has generally been appreciated by the teams, who know where they stand.

“From my point of view the new set-up with Niels and also Eduardo had a very good start going into this new era of F1,” McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl noted in Miami.

“Niels is quite straightforward in terms of making sure that the rules get enforced. He’s also quite straightforward in terms of getting across what he’s expecting. And that’s what I personally like.

“And at the same time, he is always available for a dialogue and for constructive input as well, if you think things need to be reconsidered. And from this point of view, when I look now how these first races went, I think we are in a good place.”

However there have been some points of discussion. In last Friday’s team managers’ meeting in Miami Wittich had to be convinced by those present that he had misinterpreted the rules concerning the use of DRS during qualifying in Imola.

He’s also shown that he often prefers to use a virtual safety car before going to a full safety car. Some observers were surprised when he did that in the Miami race after the Lando Norris accident, when there was both a damaged car and debris on the track.

He has also been involved in some issues that have left the drivers frustrated, notably with his insistence on following the FIA International Sporting Code and banning the wearing of jewellery and non-approved underwear.

Barcelona will in theory be a relatively straightforward place for Freitas to start, without the obvious challenges associated with the new race in Miami, for example.

However his second outing in Monaco will be a tough test as it is always a challenge logistically.

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