Ben Sulayem: 'FIA can't search for race directors on Google'

© XPB 

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem is relying on the institution's trainee programmes for its key personnel and especially for those officials involved in F1 to establish the sport's race directors of the future.

Since taking the helm of the FIA at the end of last year, Ben Sulayem has initiated wholesale changes within the organisation's sporting branch, defining a new organigramme that now sees F1's race control alternatively chaired on race weekends by Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, with each director assisted by the other.

The change, which helped relieve pressure off the shoulders of a single individual in charge, followed the massive controversy that took place at F1's season finale in Abu Dhabi and that led to the eviction of F1's chief steward Michael Masi.

But in Monaco, race control's handling of the event's starting process, which was impacted by adverse weather and a start line systems failure that twice delayed proceedings, was heavily criticized as it left teams and spectators alike confused and in the dark.

Ben Sulayem underscored the importance of having experienced and properly trained officials managing operations, with replacement solutions in place if necessary. But the FIA president made clear that an F1 race director is not an individual that can just be bought off the shelf.

"It starts with my role," Ben Sulayem told Speedweek. "The federation needs to be broad enough to allow the sport to continue to grow without this being tied to any one person."

"We have a great many tasks ahead of us. Formula 1 alone is a huge challenge. The GP drivers have asked me to take care of the Race Control issue.

"But I can’t very well search for new race directors on Google or buy them on Amazon. Race directors have to be trained carefully and over years.

"I go back to my experience in rallying on that. Back then, we had a rotation principle for the co-drivers, for example, so it wasn’t bad if a co-driver dropped out.

"In Formula 1, we have to be much more diversified. That was one of the reasons for the introduction of the Virtual Race Control, an operations centre in Geneva which supports the Race Control at the GP venue.

"The race directors of the future will be trained in Geneva," added Ben Sulayem. "We achieve three goals at the same time – training, the current race stewards get more practice and we have more experts on hand when there is an emergency."

Last month, the FIA announced that 34-year-old Dane Ronnie Søgård Andersen had been the recipient of the 2022 Charlie Whiting Award, a prize that honours the memory of the late FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting and recognises the achievements of aspiring Race Directors.

The award was given to Andersen follwoing a "comprehensive test" that certified the "knowledge and competency demonstrated at national and international level" by the Dane.

The young FIA official will now undertake a year-long mentorship programme that will see him work at various FIA events around the world alongside experienced officials and race directors.

"The Charlie Whiting Award recognises and nurtures emerging talent such as Ronnie in their career progression as part of the Race Control management team," commented Robert Reid, FIA deputy president for sport.

"The judging panel deemed that Ronnie was the outstanding choice for his commitment, professionalism and appreciation of the role of Race Director.

"Ronnie will now enter into our 12-month mentorship programme as the next important step in his career path."

Keep up to date with all the F1 news via Facebook and Twitter