After the title-deciding and controversial final race in Abu Dhabi last season, the FIA removed Michael Masi as race director and replaced him with Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich. In their shared positions they have modified race control’s approach to different topics including jewelry, track limits and safety car restarts.
Something that has come up, and has been identified by people in the sport, is that they both prefer to keep the races going under safety car, either virtual or full safety car, instead of opting for a red flag complete stop and restart. This decision was emphasized at the Italian Grand Prix when Daniel Ricciardo’s MCL36 got stuck at the side of the track and the race went on under a safety car rather than a red flag restart.
During Michael Masi's time as Race Director, red flags had become quite common in 2021, leading to standing restarts and chaos.
Esteban Ocon thinks that this choice has eliminated a luck element that midfield teams had to pull off some shocking results. He believes that this is the reason why he and teammate Fernando Alonso have not been able to have podium finishes, as they did last season, even though they have a better car now.
"Formula 1 with no red flag restart, with different FIA decisions at times, gave less opportunities to do that this year," he explained during his media session in Japan. "It's more of a standard racing that we are going on, like it was in the past.
"There's no criticism there but, from what we've seen from the previous years in 2020 and 2021, the red flag brought a lot of spice to the races and brought opportunity to the midfield teams to be able to score podiums and wins.
"I think this year hasn't been the case because of that and because of more traditional races. But I definitely enjoy more this season. Because we are more capable, we are performing better. But yeah, it is true that it's a bit less rewarding for us, as we are not to the top yet,” said the Frenchman.
Last year both McLaren and Alpine took home some wins and podium finishes, but this year the only driver outside the top 3 teams to manage a top three finish in a race is Lando Norris with his third place at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
Ocon has not had an amazing result as his win in Hungary last year, he says there is still excitement about the season he is having in 2022 with a better car and performance package.
"It's better to score more points in the championship, but I mean, a win and a podium...it is difficult," he said, when asked what he prefers.
"But I think now we are happy with where we are with the car. More happy than last year. So let's stick to where we are. And it's not finished the season, so hopefully we can get the podium."