Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has said that Mercedes bullied Michael Masi out of his position as race director, insisting that the Australian’s decisions did not heavily impact the outcome of last year’s championship.
Sir Lewis Hamilton had looked set to claim his record eighth world championship at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix before a Safety Car after Nicholas Latifi’s crash brought title rival Max Verstappen into play.
Masi would then cause controversy after allowing only the five lapped cars between the leaders through ahead of the final lap of the race, contradicting an earlier call that none of the backmarkers were to regain their lap.
This gave the Dutchman, who had bolted on fresh tyres, a clear path to overtake his rival and claim his maiden championship in the most dramatic of circumstances.
Mercedes instantly protested the decisions that led to the controversial ending, and they even brought a Queen’s Council (QC) to the stewards’ office to help argue their case, something that Horner at the time labelled as an attempt to “intimidate” the stewards.
Masi has now been removed from his position as race director by new FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem, who has drafted in Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas to replace him with the aid of former deputy race director Herbie Blash and a virtual control room.
Horner believes that this decision was made after significant pressure from Mercedes, and this does not sit right with him.
“Was it right to fire him based on pressure that was placed on him from a rival team? That for me was wrong,” he told the BBC.
“That’s tantamount to bullying. It’s passively aggressive.
“Looking at that incident, it wasn’t a big crash and the driver was not injured.”
The 48-year-old maintains that it would have made no difference to the events of the final lap had all of the lapped cars been allowed through.
“The car was near an exit [in the barriers] and it always looked like the likelihood that it would be cleared up, and there would have been no problem releasing all seven cars rather than just five,” he explained.
“If they’d have released all seven of them, would you have had a problem with it?
“It would make no difference to the outcome of the championship if they’d got all seven out of the way.”
The Briton concedes that the 44-year-old could have saved himself by permitting everyone through, but he still finds that it had no tangible effect on proceedings.
“The only mistake you could argue he made was not releasing the back two cars, that he could’ve done easily, but it had no material effect on the race,” he added.
While Verstappen claimed his first Drivers’ Championship, Mercedes were able to secure their record eighth consecutive constructors’ crown.
The two teams are set to do battle all over again under new technical regulations in 2022, perhaps with the added involvement of Ferrari and McLaren.