F1 chief accused of breaking his own rules as fuming fans make his words haunt him
F1's race director has faced a furious backlash from fans and could even lose his job after he was accused of going back on his own words in the controversial conclusion to Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Australian Michael Masi, who has been in his position since 2019, has faced intense criticism since the race amid claims that he ignored the sport's regulations in order to generate the sensational final lap which saw Belgian-Dutchman Verstappen pass Hamilton to claim his first ever world title.
Masi's critics maintain that he gave an incorrect go-ahead for the safety car to be removed from the track following an earlier accident involving Williams driver Nicholas Latifi, affording Verstappen – who was on fresher tyres – an opportunity to eat into Hamilton's lead before passing him on Turn Five and fighting off two desperate overtake attempts from the Englishman before he crossed the finish line.
The scandal has deepened after some viewers brought up an incident involving driver Lando Norris at the Eiffel Grand Prix in October 2018.
Well, Masi’s directive didn’t follow the rules. All lapped cars should have been allowed to pass before the Safety Car ended.#MasiOUT#SafetyCar#fixpic.twitter.com/1tR4CV1Njr— PaulB 🇮🇪🇪🇺🇨🇾 (@PaulBlack2022) December 12, 2021
Michael Masi determined the outcome of this championship. He used his discretion to interpret the rules in a way they have never been interpreted before to create a restart from which there was only going to be one winner. That is not his job.— Andrew Frankel (@Andrew_Frankel) December 12, 2021
On that occasion, Masi allowed for the entire field of 10 lapped cars to un-lap themselves while the safety car was deployed. It was a move which led to extreme criticism of Masi, with the move taking a full six laps to complete.
Masi said at the time: "There’s a requirement in the sporting regulations to wave all the lapped cars past. From that point, it was position six onwards that were still running [on the lead lap], so between 10 or 11 cars had to un-lap themselves."
The remarks appear to directly contradict Masi's decisions in Abu Dhabi, leading to outrage among many.
Everyone finally agrees that Michael Masi made a boo-boo...#MasiOUT#FormulaOnepic.twitter.com/FhSgFcS8mc— Manzana Actuary (@Khizzie) December 12, 2021
Spot on!"Lando Norris says the decision by FIA race director Michael Masi to allow only a limited number of drivers to unlap themselves behind the safety car late in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, was “for the TV” spectacle".#AbuDhabiGP#F1— A Masked Cat (@otariomachado) December 12, 2021
The five cars that were allowed to un-lap themselves in the final Grand Prix of the season were the same five whose track positions were between first-placed Hamilton and Verstappen in second.
Masi also appeared to ignore guidelines which state that the safety car is to be withdrawn on the lap after cars un-lap themselves, instead ordering its removal to allow one final lap of racing between the two world title rivals.
Hamilton's Mercedes team have argued that, had the correct regulations been followed, their driver would have won the World Championship.
23:42 Michael Masi leaving the track. Doesn’t want to comment right now. #AbuDhabiGP#FormulaOne#f1pic.twitter.com/vVZ6SO9BTz— Silja Rulle (@SiljaRulle) December 12, 2021
This F1 season gave us a new definition of motor racing!Contributed by #MichaelMasi 🤦#AbuDhabiGP#MercedesAMGF1pic.twitter.com/FlYzt6oRli— Elina Hinder (@elinahinder) December 13, 2021
"Michael Masi and the FIA should be ashamed," raged one critic. "Giving a driver an unfair advantage in breach of their own rules, then saying, 'tough, I’m the race director' is nothing short of madness. The wrong driver is the world champion."
Another said: "Michael Masi determined the outcome of this championship. He used his discretion to interpret the rules in a way they have never been interpreted before to create a restart from which there was only going to be one winner. That is not his job."
Masi's job could be under threat after his apparent manipulation of the rules which led to the Hollywood-style ending, according to Fox Sports.
Michael Masi looking at the F1 rule book: pic.twitter.com/iMOprIc7ig— Matt Gallagher (@MattyWTF1) December 12, 2021
If you don’t understand what happened in Formula 1. I’ll translate it into football terms. Lewis Hamilton is Chelsea. Max Verstappen is Barcelona. Michael Masi is Tom Henning Ovrebo 👀 pic.twitter.com/T38kfeeEiY— SPORTbible (@sportbible) December 12, 2021
While a storm gathers around Masi, Hamilton put his heartbreak behind him by receiving a British honor at the Royal Family's Windsor Castle on Wednesday.
The Prince of Wales gave Hamilton his official recognition for services to motorsport in the ceremony, which came after he was named on the New Year Honors 2021 list in January.
Hamilton's mother, Carmen, joined him at the castle as he become the fourth Formula 1 driver in history to be knighted, following in the footsteps of Sir Jackie Stewart, Sir Stirling Moss and Sir Jack Brabham.