Christian Horner launches fresh defence of Michael Masi, makes revelation

Michael Masi was removed as race director after the controversial end to the 2021 championship.

Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, has revealed that he checked in on Michael Masi after his departure as race director.

Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen entered the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix level on points in December and, on the opening lap of the race, Red Bull felt as though Hamilton had kept his position illegally by leaving the racetrack.

Masi decided that there was nothing doing, and heading into the final laps of the grand prix, it looked as though the seven-time champion was about to record his eighth.

However, Nicholas Latifi crashed into the wall with but a few laps remaining, bringing out the Safety Car.

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Red Bull pitted Verstappen for fresh rubber, leaving five lapped cars between himself and Hamilton, who had not pitted to make sure he had track position.

Mercedes did not want to lose the lead in case there was not enough time to restart it, and for that same reason, Masi decided not to allow any of the lapped runners go through.

However, ahead of the final lap, the Australian decided to allow only five of the seven back-markers to get their lap back – the five that were between the leaders.

The Dutchman passed his rival on the final lap to claim his maiden world title, causing outrage in the Mercedes camp, and among Formula 1 fans globally.

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Since that debacle, Masi has been removed from his role as race director, and more recently, he has left the FIA to move back to Australia and spend more time with his family.

Masi was given a plethora of responsibilities to juggle alongside his role as race director, and he was not helped by the vagueness of the regulations, which stated that “any” of the lapped runners could be let through at his discretion.

That has since been changed to “all,” and this is now being interpreted by Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, who are alternating as race directors.

While Masi did not technically contravene any rules, the governing body felt that he had made a mistake, so they took him out of the firing line.

At the Italian Grand Prix last time out, Verstappen won under yellow flags after Wittich decided he did not have enough time to let the lapped runners go, so fans were denied a grandstand finish.

On the Beyond the Grid Podcast, Horner was asked by Tom Clarkson if he had reached out to the disgraced race director, who also received death threats online.

“Yes, on a couple of occasions,” he said.

“I felt that it wasn’t fair, the way he had been treated, because I think that he’d done the best that he could, following the principles.

“The only thing he screwed up on was not allowing the final two cars at the back of the field to unlap themselves.”

The 48-year-old affirmed that Masi did all he could to avoid a boring end to what had been a thrilling championship battle.

“As we saw recently in Monza, nobody wants to see a race diluted and finished under a Safety Car,” added Horner.

“So he did everything to get that race going again, which would have been a horrendous finish to the season, to see it just diluted and peter out under a Safety Car.

“I think the reaction after the race, there was a huge amount of abuse sent to him, there were death threats to his family. No individual deserves to go through that.”

The “multiple” responsibilities Masi needed to carry out were cited as a hindrance in the FIA’s investigation into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as well as a lack of “support” for the race director.

“I think that Michael, in difficult circumstances, did the very best he could throughout the year,” agreed Horner.

“We have to remember he had very little support in that race control tower and was left very much on his own up there.

“When you follow the process of how they’re looking at how cars run, it’s back to pens and pieces of paper.

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“He didn’t have all the backup that the teams have, for example, with our operations rooms, and the software.

“It was still a very rudimentary process.”

Red Bull and Mercedes were constantly on the radio demanding that Masi made decisions that convenience their respective drivers, and radio lobbying has also been banned this year, with one select representative from each team now permitted to speak to either Wittich or Freitas.