Reigning Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen is not impressed with the FIA’s decision to remove Michael Masi as race director, revealing that he has contacted him personally.
Masi was at the centre of controversy at last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix when he allowed a limited number of lapped runners through past the Safety Car ahead of the final lap, leading to a dramatic late overtake from the Dutchman to clinch the championship from Sir Lewis Hamilton.
The 44-year-old’s decision was described as a “twist” of the regulations by former Formula 1 driver Johnny Herbert, and many fans called for his sacking.
Following a meeting with team bosses a little under two weeks ago, new FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem announced that Masi had been replaced as race director by Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, who will alternate in the role in 2022.
Support will arrive in the form of former deputy race director Herbie Blash and a virtual control room which was compared by ben Sulayem to VAR in football.
Verstappen was asked about the changes to race control after day two of pre-season testing in Barcelona – at which Wittich and Freitas are present – and criticised the move.
“I think it’s not correct,” he said, as quoted by France24.
“Everyone always tries to do the best job, everyone can always use help.
“Like us drivers also – we have the whole team behind us, we prove it ourselves. For me, it’s very unfair what happened to Michael – he was really being thrown under the bus.”
The Dutchman does not doubt that the new infrastructure put in place is an effective one, but he feels for the Australian, who feels did not do a bad job when he occupied the position.
“[The fact they] did sack him like that in the first place for me is unacceptable. And now basically (that they) sacked him is really incredible. I feel really sorry for Michael,” he added.
“I think he was a very capable and good race director.
“I have nothing against the new race directors – because I think they are also very capable and very good race directors.”
Former FIA president Jean Todt previously revealed that he had been in touch with Masi as a “human being” to check up on him while he was receiving torrents of abuse from fans, and the 24-year-old confirms that he has done the same since he lost his role.
“But, personally, and for Michael, I felt really sad and I sent him a text as well,” he stated.
The FIA are still conducting their enquiry into the late events in December, and will conclude it on 18 March – the opening weekend of the season.