EXCLUSIVE: Ex-F1 driver slams FIA for sacking Masi due to ‘outside pressure’, not because he did a ‘bad job’

Michael Masi has been relieved of his duties as race director by the FIA after the highly controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year.

Former Formula 1 driver Marc Surer has criticised the FIA’s decision to remove Michael Masi as race director, and insists that more support for the Australian was all that was needed.

Masi was at the centre of the most controversial title decider in recent memory when he contradicted an earlier decision by only allowing a limited number of lapped runners to pass a late Safety Car ahead of the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

As a result, Max Verstappen snatched the championship away from Sir Lewis Hamilton on the very last lap of the race, leading a furious Toto Wolff to exclaim to the Australian that the manner in which the title was decided was “so not right.”

Indeed, incessant radio interference from Mercedes and Red Bull was a common theme of the 2021 season, with Red Bull and Mercedes both frequently getting in touch with race control in a bid to influence their decisions.

The FIA, now led by Mohammed ben Sulayem after Jean Todt’s tenure came to an end, have started an enquiry into the events, and many believed that Masi had already lost his job when he was absent from the governing body’s organisational chart in January.

It then transpired that ben Sulayem merely moved Peter Bayer across to supervise him but, following a meeting with team bosses on Monday to discuss the FIA commission’s initial findings, the 14-time East Rally champion officially announced on Thursday that the 44-year-old’s three-year reign as race director had come to an end.

He will be replaced by former DTM race director Niels Wittich and current WEC race director Eduardo Freitas, who has over 20 years of experience in his role and is renowned for his no-nonsense approach.

The pair are set to alternate as race director throughout 2022.

Support will be provided by former deputy race director Herbie Blash, who worked with the late Charlie Whiting during his time at the helm of race control, and a virtual control room which ben Sulayem likened to VAR in football will also be at their disposal.

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With changes across the board being applied to how races will now be refereed, Surer does not believe that Masi deserved to be removed purely based on what happened in December.

“I think it was an overreaction of the FIA to get rid of Masi, because overall over the whole season and over the last years he did not do a bad job,” he told Formula1News.co.uk.

“I think [the FIA] needed a new organisation to take pressure from the race director but it didn’t need to replace him, because I think a lot of decisions are made under pressure and you have no time to decide and you have the team managers in your ears trying to influence you; that was just too much, I can imagine why all this happened.”

The former Theodore and Arrows driver maintains that the Australian was under huge pressure from the outside and, although he concedes he had his flaws, he believes the 44-year-old did a good job as race director.

“So, why replace Masi? It was because of the pressure from the outside and not because he did a bad job. He made maybe some bad decisions yes, but not a bad job,” he emphasised.

However, he is pleased with the return of Blash, who departed his role at the FIA at the end of 2016 and spent 21 years working as deputy race director – 19 of which were alongside Whiting.

“But the good thing is they re-organised the management and I am very, very happy that Herbie Blash is back,” he affirmed.

“We should not forget that with Charlie Whiting, he always praised him for his good decisions, but a lot of the time there was always Herbie Blash alongside him.

“So to hear that he is back is the best message today.”

Ben Sulayem has said that Masi will be offered a different role at the FIA after being axed as race director, but at this stage, it’s unclear exactly what this new position might be.

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