‘Unfair to blame Masi’ for Abu Dhabi chaos – FIA steward

Danny Sullivan contested 15 races in Formula 1 in 1983, scoring points in Monaco.

Former Formula 1 driver Danny Sullivan has defended race director Michael Masi after the controversial end to the 2021 season, and sympathises with the amount of work he has on his plate.

Masi has been under intense scrutiny since the close of last year’s title battle between Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen when he contradicted an earlier decision by allowing a limited number of lapped runners to pass the Safety Car ahead of the final lap.

Verstappen was then able to pass the 37-year-old who had dominated much of the race, and clinch his maiden championship on the final lap.

A large part of the stress that the Australian was under during the late chaos came in the form of radio communication from both Red Bull and Mercedes and, coupled with the fact that he has to juggle four jobs at once, Masi is a strenuously busy man at the best of times during race weekends.

Sullivan, who has himself served as an FIA driver steward, appreciates the magnitude of the tasks the 44-year-old faces throughout the year.

“It’s a lot of pressure, because you’re trying to make the right decision and follow all the rules,” he said, as quoted by Motorsport.com.

The 1985 Indy 500 winners also acknowledges the fact that it is impossible to appease every fan, particularly on social media.

“At best case on the internet, you’ve got people 51 percent happy and 49 percent pissed off with every decision!” he added.

Sullivan stresses how hard Masi works to ensure the facile running of every event, and maintains that a lot of his decision-making is based off of precedent.

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“I do think that it’s unfair to blame Michael Masi. He made a decision based on a lot of things that go back a year or two that was, you know, ‘let’s finish under green’ for example,” he explained.

“Michael is one guy – he does track inspections, he does this, he does that. I mean the guy works like a dog all year long!

“At the end of this deal, everybody’s exhausted, you’re just trying to make the right decision.”

The 71-year-old, who has been part of the driver steward system in F1 since 2010, details the decision-making process during races, and maintains that the manner in which decisions are reached is not contingent on championship standing.

“We’ve never had a discussion over where anybody is sat in the championship, what it did with points, none of that in 13 years has ever been a part of the discussion,” he said.

“Now if somebody has that in the back of their mind, nobody has ever brought it out in the stewards’ room.

“We just look at the data, all the cameras, everything. This is the alleged infraction – yea or nay – and if it’s a yea, the penalties are all pretty much set. If it’s extreme, it’s this, if it’s not, it’s that.”

The F1 points scorer with Benetton Tyrrell in 1983 emphasises that stewards will always request assistance from the race director if they are ever unsure as to the applicable decision for an incident, and reveals that this was the case with former race director Charlie Whiting, who sadly passed in 2019.

“I’ve worked with all the chief stewards, the second stewards, and it’s always been that way. If we’re not sure, we always ask a question. And that’s been the same to Charlie Whiting or Michael Masi. You make the best decision you can on the information you got,” added Sullivan.

Regarding the aforementioned radio chatter, the 1988 CART champion opines that constant information from the teams detracts from the task Masi has at hand, and that rapid decisions are made more onerous when race control are having to spend crucial time dealing with team principals.

“It’s gotten a little out of hand. Ultimately he has to make the decision and the more support you can get around him [the better] but the problem is you don’t have time to call a conference,” he explained

“When you’re trying to get an accident cleared up, get corner workers off the track and everything ready to go, it’s not like there is time for ‘hey guys, lets huddle up here’. And then you’ve got this radio situation [with the teams’ messages to race control being broadcast], that’s wrong in my opinion.

Sullivan respects the job that the 44-year-old has done since he was plunged into his current role, and insists that Whiting’s shoes were always going to be big ones to fill.

“Michael’s a good guy, Charlie really believed in him.

“He worked with Charlie for years, he learned from the best. And Charlie had so much knowledge, he developed the whole deal, growing up as an F1 mechanic and going through the full thing, so replacing that kind of background is hard to find.”

The FIA are currently conducting a “detailed” analysis into the closing events of the 2021 championship, and will conclude this on 18 March – two days before the beginning of the 2022 season in Bahrain.