‘Michael’s helped us’: Red Bull defend ‘nice guy’ Masi amid calls for him to be fired

Many fans have called for the removal of Michael Masi from his role as race director after the contentious finish to the 2021 season.

Red Bull sporting director Jonathan Wheatley has jumped to the defence of race director Michael Masi, indicating that the FIA underestimated the role they were plunging him into.

Masi was involved in several contentious moments last season, not least at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix when he contradicted an earlier decision by allowing a limited number of lapped runners to overtake the Safety Car ahead of the final lap of the race.

This left Max Verstappen to snatch his maiden world championship from Sir Lewis Hamilton on the final lap, and Mercedes were left fuming.

Team principal Toto Wolff told the Australian that the finish to the race was “so not right,” while Hamilton labelled the final lap “manipulated.”

READ: Hamilton won’t retire if FIA can address ‘injustice towards him’

The Silver Arrows would then drop an appeal of the championship result several days later, and it was reported that this was in exchange for the removal of Masi as race director, though Mercedes later reportedly denied this.

The 44-year-old has been somewhat taken out of the firing line by new FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem, with the Emirati placing him and FIA head of single-seater technical matters, Nikolas Tombazis, under the supervision of new executive director of single-seaters Peter Bayer.

Bayer himself has recently sympathised with the sheer amount of tasks Masi needs to carry out over a race weekend, and has revealed that he would like to put framework in place that depressurises the role of the race director.

Masi was given his current position after the tragic passing of Charlie Whiting during the Australian Grand Prix weekend in 2019.

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This, coupled with the departure of Herbie Blash at the end of 2016, gave the 44-year-old a strenuous task.

Wheatley opines that the FIA did not realise the size of the task that they asked Masi to perform.

“Charlie died in 2019, and I think the FIA were slow to realise just what a big pair of shoes that would be to fill,” he said on The Jack Threlfall Show.

The Briton has grown personally fond of the Australian, and reckons that he simply needs a bit of assistance from those around him.

“I think Michael, with the right support, is more than capable of doing that. He’s a really nice guy with no edge to him at all, and he listens and tries to do the very best that he can,” he added.

Part of the difficulties surrounding Masi last year came by way of persistent radio messages from both Mercedes and Red Bull attempting to influence his judgement.

This was especially the case in the build-up to the contentious end at the Yas Marina Circuit, but Wheatley suggests that the issue lies more with the fact that the messages were aired to the public.

Michael Masi at 2019 Singapore GP.v1

“I personally think it was a mistake to broadcast [radio messages between teams and Masi],” he affirmed.

“Teams have supported Michael and Michael’s helped us. We’ve worked together in a collaborative fashion, and that dies a death when it’s broadcast.”

READ: Red Bull’s 2022 car passes crash test – Report

However, the 54-year-old concedes that he occasionally allowed frustrations to boil over.

“There were situations where I got bit frustrated and said things I shouldn’t have said.”

Despite Verstappen’s title success last year, Mercedes claimed their record-eighth consecutive Constructors’ Championship in 2021.

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