Aston Martin F1 driver Sebastian Vettel says he disagrees with the notion that race director Michael Masi should be entirely to blame for the late controversy at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and suggests that he needs more support.
Masi was the centre of attention following the closing race of the 2021 season when he allowed a limited number of lapped runners to pass the Safety Car ahead of the final lap, reneging on an earlier decision to permit no lapped runners their lap back.
This allowed Max Verstappen, who had bolted on fresh rubber, to pass Sir Lewis Hamilton on the final lap to claim a dramatic and controversial championship after the Briton had been leading much of the race.
Calls have since been made for the Australian to be removed from his position, but new FIA executive director of single-seaters, Peter Bayer, has recently sympathised with the sheer volume of tasks Masi has to carry out over a weekend.
While Bayer refused to rule out sacking the 44-year-old, he is prioritising putting in place the correct framework to assist the race director in his duties.
In reality, what happened in December followed on from years of inconsistency from stewards, and Vettel is adamant that one man should not be put on the chopping block after the events.
“[It is] absolutely wrong. It’s [shameful] that it’s all focused on one man,” he told Sky Sports F1 after Aston Martin revealed their car for the 2022 season.
“He probably had a very, very difficult position on that day and we probably should focus on making the rules better and more clear, so it’s better for everyone.
“I think it’s completely wrong. I don’t understand why there’s been so much focus on him. I think he was trying to do the best job he could.”
Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has recently told Vettel that he has a business side of the sport that he must cater to regarding environmental issues, and the German appreciates that providing box office entertainment is at the top of the list conjointly with the sport from a corporate standpoint.
“There are two interests clashing. One is the sport and the other is the show,” he said in a media briefing.
“I don’t care so much about the show because I look at is a sport and from a competitive point of view.”
Following the sudden and tragic passing of Charlie Whiting on the eve of the opening day of the 2019 season in Melbourne, Masi was plunged into his current position; unlike his predecessor, he did not have the wise head of Herbie Blash alongside him.
Vettel understands that this must weigh on the Australian, and insists that he is doing well under the circumstances.
“Obviously, it is not the easiest to be in the shoes of the referee, or Michael’s shoes, but he has done a great job, particularly after filling in for [former race director] Charlie Whiting who died so suddenly.
“Michael has been very focused and determined to do a good job. I don’t know what is in store for his future but I hope he sticks around because overall he has done a very good job.
“There was a lot of controversy surrounding the last race but that shouldn’t be, because if you look at the bigger picture he has done really well.
“The main thing moving forward is that there is clarity in these situations so no further questions are asked.”
The 34-year-old reinforced his opinion that both Hamilton and Verstappen were well worth the championship last year and that, in order to obtain fairer results, there needs to be a simplification of the rules and regulations of F1.
“They both were [deserving champions],” he stated.
“The thing is, you woke up that morning you knew that one of them would win, and one of them would lose which probably wasn’t fair, because they both had such great seasons.”
“Looking forward we need to just make sure we have rules and protocols that are very easy and clear to follow, and there’s no argument after. There’s always going to be a winner and a loser, that’s the name of the game.
“But we need to make sure we focus on the sport and the show doesn’t distract.”
His team-mate Lance Stroll, also speaking after the unveiling of Aston Martin’s 2022 car, had a slightly stringent view on the contentious ending to last year’s championship, and he was left irritated having been one of the drivers not permitted to pass the Safety Car late on.
“It’s ridiculous that we didn’t go back racing in the way that we should have gone back racing,” he added.
Hamilton said during the final lap that the race had been “manipulated,” and the Canadian shares this view, affirming his disagreement at what has been perceived by many fans as a deceitful interpretation of the rules by race control.
“The rules were inconsistent,” he said.
“In Abu Dhabi there was a change in regulation with one lap remaining. The rule is when there’s a Safety Car with one lap to go, all lapped cars have to lap the Safety Car before we go racing.
“How it all played out – half the cars can, half the cars can’t – so that the two fighting for the world championship could have one more lap of racing, I think is just manipulating the rules in a way and I don’t think that’s right.”
McLaren CEO Zak Brown has recently suggested that F1 can yet repair its perhaps slightly damaged reputation, and Stroll agrees that the sport can learn from last year’s chaos and move forward diligently.
“It’s done, it’s in the past, and I’m sure Formula 1 and everyone will learn from it,” he stated.
The FIA are currently conducting a “detailed” analysis into the closing events of last year’s title battle, and they will conclude this on 18 March – two days before the beginning of the 2022 season in Bahrain.