Verstappen branded ‘officially not a legitimate champion’ after Masi sacked

Michael Masi was relieved of his duties as race director following a controversial 2021 season.

F1 fans on Twitter have a history of keeping us entertained when expressing their support of their favourite drivers, and they certainly have not disappointed following the removal of race director Michael Masi.

The Australian was the centre of controversy at last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix when he allowed a handful of lapped runners past the Safety Car ahead of the final lap of the race, leading to a dramatic overtake from Max Verstappen to snatch the championship away from Sir Lewis Hamilton.

Masi had contradicted an earlier call to allow none of the lapped cars through, and it caused uproar at Mercedes, whose team principal Toto Wolff radioed the race director to tell him that his decision at the end of the race was “so not right.”

The Silver Arrows would then rescind an appeal into the championship classification, instead settling for a “detailed” investigation that new FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem is conducting into the contentious closing events.

The Emirati met with team bosses in London last week to discuss their initial findings, and later confirmed that “structural changes” would be imposed in the “coming days.”

Indeed, a statement was released a few days later revealing that Masi will no longer serve as race director, but is likely to retain a role in some capacity within motorsport’s governing body.

He will be replaced by alternating race directors Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich, who will receive support from experienced former deputy race director Herbie Blash and a virtual control room that ben Sulayem has compared to VAR in football.

In truth, the race in Abu Dhabi was the latest in a long line of controversial incidents during the Hamilton/Verstappen rivalry, with the pair coming together on multiple occasions.

The Dutchman accused the 37-year-old of disrespect after his celebrations when he won the British Grand Prix following a crash that put the Red Bull driver in the wall in a 51G crash on the opening lap, and he would then end up on top of the seven-time champion when they came together in Monza.

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Verstappen appeared to crowd Hamilton off the track in Brazil without receiving a penalty, and this preceded the famous braking incident in Saudi Arabia in early December for which the 24-year-old was penalised along with another instance of pushing his rival off the circuit.

It was a tumultuous, controversial campaign that saw fans of either driver perennially trying to score points on each other, and frequent memes and petulance all added to the hilarious drama between the fanbases in 2021.

The removal of Masi was bound to cause a reaction from both sides, and we have found some gold since the FIA’s announcement last week.

A Hamilton fan tweeted “Verstappen is officially not a legitimate champion pass it on,” prompting another user to reply with a “no one cares” Universal Pictures gif.

This followed a series of tweets from other Hamilton fans demanding that the championship standings be reversed in the Briton’s favour, and a Verstappen fan was quick to mock them.

“Michael Masi gets removed as F1 race director and the first thing on their minds is Max Verstappen,” they posted, followed by a crying face emoji.

They then received a reply saying “I couldn’t wait for the banter to begin,” which about sums up what we were all thinking after the news broke out.

Last season’s title protagonists, provided their respective teams have nailed the new technical regulations, are set to go toe-to-toe again this year, so we should expect more hysteric shots fired between fans of Hamilton and Verstappen this year.