Aussie Masi at the heart of F1 controversy

Michael Masi is the Australian F1 race director at the centre of the Abu Dhabi GP controversy.

Michael Masi is the Australian F1 race director at the centre of the Abu Dhabi GP controversy. Photo: Getty

Australian motorsport official Michael Masi has found himself unwittingly one of the central players in one of modern sport’s great dramas as his decisions shaped the incredible season-ending Formula One championship climax.

The 43-year-old F1 race director was slammed, praised and given plenty of sympathy in turn over his fateful, pressurised call to allow the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to resume for one last, momentous lap on Sunday.

His late ruling enabled Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to overtake Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and win both the race and the world title.

Masi found himself facing fury from Mercedes for his handling of the ending of a terribly-timed safety car period after Nicholas Latifi’s late crash.

When the all-clear was given to resume racing, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told the Australian over the radio: “Michael, this isn’t right!”

Yet even after Wolff complained again, Masi stood his ground, defending his decision with the sharp response: “It’s called a motor race. We went car racing.”

Red Bull chief Christian Horner, naturally, praised Masi’s decision to let racing recommence, saying: “The race director in difficult circumstances made absolutely the right call.”

Yet it proved the toughest day in Masi’s two-year reign as the man who oversees all F1 races.

His ultimate test came when confusion surrounded the restart after the Latifi crash, with five backmarkers still between Verstappen and Hamilton after the Dutchman had pitted with the safety car deployed and time running out for racing to resume.

Masi first decided lapped cars could not unlap themselves and then changed his mind so that the cars between the title rivals could get out of the way.

He had appeared to have been put under pressure by Horner, who had asked him on the radio: “Why aren’t we getting these lapped cars out the way?”

Masi had at first hesitated, saying: “Because, Christian … just give me a second. OK, my main big one is get this incident clear.”

Horner persisted, “You only need one racing lap”.

Masi then changed tack and his apparent volte-face, which allowed Verstappen what was almost an inevitable passport to victory on much fresher tyres, then triggered Wolff’s wrath.

The messy affair still isn’t over as Mercedes filed for reconsideration to the International Court of Appeal – in response to FIA stewards hours after Sunday’s race rejecting a pair of protests lodged by the team.

A trio of former world champions – Nico Rosberg, Damon Hill and Jenson Button – had sympathy for Masi’s plight.

Rosberg, the 2016 champion, called for more support in decision-making for the Australian.

“You’ve got to feel some compassion for him (Masi). He’s got the whole world watching and he has to decide in the next 15 seconds what he’s doing,” Rosberg said.

“It’s the last lap of the last race of the world championship, that is the ultimate, most high-pressure situation in the world, and he took his decision which gave us beautiful awesome racing and an incredible finale.

“We need to be careful. Michael’s job this year has been so unbelievably difficult to manage this intense battle.

“Michael needs support this winter, there needs to be progress over frameworks and guidelines and we should be in a better position for next year.”

But Hill noted that, although he understood why Masi wanted proceedings to finish with a proper race, the official had sent “messages that were contradictory”.

Button noted Masi had earlier been put under pressure by Horner, who complained to him after Hamilton had not been penalised for going off the track and gaining an advantage when under pressure from Verstappen.

“Both Mercedes and Red Bull were talking to the referee (Masi) during the race and they can’t be swaying the decision. It’s difficult enough as it is for Michael Masi,” Button said.


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