Hamilton ‘crusaders’ must end witch-hunt, accept Masi did nothing wrong

Max Verstappen defeated Sir Lewis Hamilton to the world championship in controversial style on the final lap of the 2021 season.

Formula 1 journalist Joe Saward does not believe it is likely that race director Michael Masi will lose his job, and has stressed to fans of Sir Lewis Hamilton that the Australian did “nothing fundamentally wrong.”

Masi was at the epicentre of extreme controversy when he allowed only five lapped cars to overtake the Safety Car late on in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year.

This contradicted a previous decision to leave all of the lapped runners in position due to time constraints threatening to see the season finale end behind the Safety Car.

It was the same reason Mercedes opted not to pit Hamilton and Max Verstappen, who had bolted on fresh tyres, was able to pass the seven-time world champion on the very last lap of the race to claim his first F1 title.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff told Masi that the contentious finish was “so not right,” though his team eventually withdrew an appeal into the events in December a few days after the season finale.

They have since reportedly denied that this was in exchange for Masi losing his job, and he was absent from the governing body’s organisational chart in January.

As it turned out, new FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem had moved Peter Bayer across as the new executive director of single-seaters, and Masi will be working under him from now on.

While Bayer did not rule out removing the Australian from his position, he said he would prefer to put in place infrastructure that supports him during his strenuous responsibilities on race weekends.

This has recently been reported to come in the form of former DTM race director Niels Wittich and World Endurance Championship (WEC) race director Eduardo Freitas.

Article continues below

Ben Sulayem met with team principals earlier this week to get their thoughts on the FIA’s initial findings, and the 60-year-old has suggested that “structural changes and [an] action plan” will be put in place.

While it is not quite certain what this exactly means, Saward does not believe the FIA will give in to anyone’s demands, as this would blemish their authority.

“It remains to be seen what this means, but it is not thought likely that the federation will axe race director Michael Masi, as this would obviously be a sign of the FIA kowtowing to pressures from external forces, particularly as the FIA Stewards in Abu Dhabi rejected the Mercedes-Benz appeal and by doing so supported Masi’s actions, whether it was popular or not,” Saward said on his blog.

The Briton also maintains that Masi did not technically contravene any sporting regulations with the restart, and suggests that fans campaigning for his dismissal do not quite grasp that.

“Everyone feels for Lewis and what happened,” he continued.

“But some of the crusaders who are trying to mount witch-hunts against Masi need to understand – as the FIA Stewards in Abu Dhabi obviously did – that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with what the race director did.

“Even if the result was patently unfair and Hamilton did not deserve to lose the race and thus the title.”

Wolff said after the championship that he and the 37-year-old were “disillusioned” with F1 following the controversy, and a near two-month absence from social media led fans to believe that the Stevenage-born racer was done with the sport.

However, a series of recent social media posts from both him and his team would now suggest that he will be back to contest the 2022 season and battle for his record eighth world title.