Williams team principal and CEO Jost Capito has defended Michael Masi amid the backlash the race director has received since the controversial closing events of the 2021 season.
Masi sparked controversy at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December after he permitted a limited number of lapped runners to pass the Safety Car late on in the race, leading to a final lap overtake from Max Verstappen to claim his maiden Formula 1 championship from Sir Lewis Hamilton.
Mercedes were exasperated by how the final two laps played out following Nicholas Latifi’s pivotal collision with the barrier, and promised to hold the FIA “accountable” for an investigation they are now carrying out into the minutes between Masi’s contrasting decisions after he had initially ruled that no lapped drivers would get their lap back.
New FIA executive director of single-seaters, Peter Bayer, has been shuffled across by new president Mohammed ben Sulayem to supervise both the Australian and head of single-seater technical matters Nikolas Tombazis.
Further, Bayer has refused to rule out the possibility that Masi could lose his job as race director, but sympathised with the many tasks the 44-year-old is asked to carry out over the course of a race weekend.
Capito is not on board with suggestions that Masi ought to be relieved of his duties, and praised the job that race control do under extremely difficult circumstances.
“I know Masi quite well; I met him a couple of times,” he told the Collecting Cars Podcast.
“I had discussions with him, I had discussions with the stewards, I had quite a lot of discussions especially with Emanuele Pirro. What are the issues, what are the difficulties the stewards and Masi have to go through during a race? And I see it’s very, very difficult.
“But I think they handle it very well for what’s going on. And also Masi is very professional, and I don’t believe anybody in the FIA or the stewards prefer, at any time, any team or any driver. That’s absolutely 1000 percent sure.”
A large factor in the pressure that Masi found himself under in 2021 was constant radio chatter from Mercedes and Red Bull.
Jonathan Wheatley and Christian Horner were often heard verbally hounding the 44-year-old to see incidents in their favour at Red Bull, while Mercedes’ Toto Wolff and Ron Meadows equivocated their points of view at the same time.
F1 technical director Ross Brawn has previously stated that this radio communication will be stopped, with Bayer later clarifying that one select member from each team will be permitted to speak directly to race control.
Capito agrees that the persistent lobbying of race control is not at all helpful.
“You have to take the decisions quite quickly and immediately, and that decision is seen by millions or billions of people live at the same time,” Capito added.
“It’s a huge pressure. And I believe they have handled it very well. What I think is not right is that there can be a conversation with the team principals or anybody with the team with the race director during the race.”
Red Bull sporting director Wheatley suggested that the radio messages in and of themselves were not the issue, insisting that broadcasting them to the public was impertinent. The Williams boss dismisses this.
“The broadcast is not the issue. I think it’s the conversation itself. It’s the same as, when you look at football, the coach discussing with a referee during the match.
“These decisions during the race should not be able to be protested or looked at [after the race].
“If you have a football match, and there was a penalty, the penalty will not be taken away after the match if it seems that it wasn’t right.
“I think that has to be clarified by the rules and that’s the only thing I think has to be done.”
Karun Chandhok recently theorised that a brake fire on Latifi’s Williams car extended the Safety Car period, and that we otherwise would have been treated to more than just one lap of green flag running at the end of the race.
As a result of the elongated caution, Masi would then allow five lapped cars through presumably in a bid to make for as fair a finish as possible between Hamilton and Verstappen.
Capito gave a somewhat philosophical answer when quizzed as to whether the end of the race was indeed fair.
“I would say this is like life. If you say sport is absolutely fair, what is fair? Is life fair?” he replied.
He did however justify the Australian’s decision, and does not believe that any laws were contravened.
“Life isn’t fair all the time. I think Masi did it very well under the pressure he was and the decisions he had taken,” explained the 63-year-old.
“He wanted the championship to be decided without anybody else being involved, which is why he let the [lapped] cars through.
“They were first and second before the Safety Car, so they should be in that position to decide the championship. It’s fully understandable.
“Everything was according to rules that are in place, as I understand it.”
Williams ended the Constructors’ Championship eighth last season and have retained Latifi, who this year will be racing alongside Alex Albon – the Thai-Brit is returning after a year out following his Red Bull departure.