FIA scrambling to find new deputy race director

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Laurent Mekies' decision to leave the FIA to join Ferrari in a technical capacity has left the governing body scrambling to find a new deputy race director in time for next weekend's Australian Grand Prix.

The news that Mekies was leaving his post came on Wednesday. The FIA said that his involvement in any Formula 1 activity would cease with immediate effect because of confidentiality concerns.

It couldn't have come at a worse time for the FIA, which has to have someone to back up race director Charlie Whiting in Melbourne.

While Whiting is busy starting the race from trackside, the deputy race director oversees the formation and opening laps from race control. Decisions about safety cars and red flags are made by the deputy until Whiting returns.

It's a crucial role that has to be filled - and it's not one that just anyone can parachute into. Mekies himself needed a period of formal training and assessment before taking up the position.

Mekies originally joined the FIA in 2014 as safety director, He was promoted to the post of deputy race director reporting to Whiting when Herbie Blash stepped down in 2016.

Recalling Blash would be an obvious solution. Unfortunately Blash is not available, as he has a conflicting commitment at the World Superbike round in Thailand next week.

Blash - who held the position for 20 years - could be available for future races. But that doesn't solve the FIA's immediate problem in Australia.

The governing body is reported to be sounding out experienced race directors from the other championships that it oversees.

However Grand Prix events are another order of magnitude to other races, and it will be a trial by fire for anyone stepping in at such short notice.

Mekies himself will continue to act as the FIA's safety director until the end of June. He will formally join Ferrari on September 20. He will reporting directly to the team's technical director, Mattia Binotto.

The appointment has been criticised by some of the scuderia's rivals, including McLaren. Sporting director Eric Boullier said Ferrari's decision was in breach of a prior agreement of the Strategy Group.

"Ferrari went against the gentleman's agreement, and the FIA has not enforced it," Boullier fumed.

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