New FIA executive director of single-seaters Peter Bayer has affirmed that the Formula 1 governing body would like to continue working with race director Michael Masi, and sympathises with the effect widespread criticism has had on him.
Masi was the centre of attention for largely the wrong reasons in 2021, with notable incidents in Azerbaijan, Belgium, Brazil and Saudi Arabia springing to mind.
The most controversial of them all though was the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, late on in which the Australian allowed a limited number of lapped runners past the Safety Car.
Sir Lewis Hamilton looked very much on course to claim his record eighth world championship having comfortably led much of the final race of the season.
However, Williams’ Nicholas Latifi slammed into the barrier with a handful of laps remaining and, despite the pleas of Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, Masi deployed the Safety Car.
Verstappen pitted while Mercedes recognised that, with so little time left in the race, pitting Hamilton may prove a costly error were the grand prix not to resume under green flag conditions.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner recently suggested that race control would not have allowed such a crucial race to finish under a caution.
Verstappen’s stop left five lapped runners between himself and the Briton, and Masi initially ruled that no lapped drivers would be permitted their lap back before reneging on this five minutes later by letting only the five between the title protagonists through.
This allowed the 24-year-old to snatch his maiden world title on the very last lap of the race, and Mercedes would eventually drop an appeal of the championship classification four days later.
They are said to have denied rumours that they agreed a deal to have Masi removed, and the 44-year-old was once again in the headlines amid his conspicuous absence from January’s FIA organisational chart.
However, he and head of single-seater technical matters Nikolas Tombazis will simply be working under Bayer following a slight reshuffle from new president Mohammed ben Sulayem.
Many fans of the sport have called for the race director to lose his job, and Bayer recognises the amount of abuse Masi has had to deal with, as well as Latifi – who received death threats for his part in the late debacle.
“As a police officer, you rarely get any sympathy. What has become unbearable are the reactions on social media, which stop at nothing, as you saw with the death threats against Williams driver Latifi,” he told Motorsport-Total.com.
While Masi is not on social media, Bayer claims that he has been receiving plenty of “hostility” from all angles.
“Michael doesn’t have an account, but the hostility in other channels really hit him.”
Bayer has recently suggested that it is possible that Masi may yet be removed from his position as race director amid an investigation that the FIA are carrying out into the late events at the Yas Marina Circuit.
However, he revealed that he has spoken privately with the 44-year-old, and would like to continue to have a working relationship with him.
“In our conversations, I assured him of the support of the association and let him know: We want to continue working with you, but I also need your understanding that we do that subject to investigate,” he explained.
Some of the pressure Masi found himself under last season was a result of team members – particularly from Red Bull and Mercedes – hounding him to see incidents in their favour.
Bayer confirms that the framework will be changing ahead of 2022 to allow for a more focused and less coerced race director.
“The team bosses will no longer be able to intervene on this channel [but the] team managers can still intervene because they need to be able to ask questions,” he stated.
“There will also be a buffer between the FIA race director and the team bosses. In this way, the race director can concentrate on his task in the future and will no longer be distracted.”
The FIA will conclude their investigation into the closing events of the race in Abu Dhabi on 18 March, two days before the season gets underway in Bahrain.