Niels Wittich is set to assume the role of deputy race director in Spain, with Eduardo Freitas taking the top job for the next two Grands Prix. The duo were selected by the FIA to share the post, which was held by Michael Masi alone last season, and Wittich has already had complications to deal with as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel protested new regulations in Miami.
The FIA have cracked down on jewellery and underwear rules, some of which have been in place for some time but rarely enforced. Hamilton and Vettel have hit back, however, as the former pointed out that he has jewellery and piercings that cannot be immediately removed and the latter claimed that he is old enough to make his own decisions on and off the track.
The dispute, which saw Hamilton turn up to a press conference covered in watches and chains as a form of protest, ended with the Brit being given a grace period to get the piercings removed. The deadline is set for the Monaco Grand Prix later this month, but he has vowed not to follow the rules and seek an exemption for the rest of the season.
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More conflict would have to be dealt with by Freitas who, according to Motorsport, will step in for the next two races. He and Wittich share the role on an informal two-on, two-off basis after Masi was berated and axed for his part in last season’s controversial finale.
As Freitas steps up, Wittich will assume the deputy race director role in Barcelona and Monaco. This season’s arrangement has been interrupted by Freitas’ other racing commitments as he missed the opener in Bahrain and last weekend’s inaugural Miami Grand Prix.
The FIA are evidently keen to make the role more of a team environment after the huge pressure Masi came under, and the embarrassment that came with his sacking.
The new duo of Wittich and Freitas have not yet had to deal with the kind of controversy that characterised last year’s breathless title battle between Hamilton and Max Verstappen. Indeed, the seven-time champ is already too far back to mount a meaningful charge for the crown, and the Dutchman’s new rivalry with Charles Leclerc has not yet produced the kind of fireworks that would force a race director into a high-stakes call.
Having been in the role since the start of the season, Wittich’s no-nonsense approach is clear and it remains to be seen whether Freitas will follow a similar philosophy when he takes the reins. McLaren boss Andreas Seidl believes that the authoritarian leadership could be a good thing for the sport.
“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,” he said. “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.”