Former Formula 1 driver Johnny Herbert has blasted the “totally unfair” decision by race director Michael Masi that ultimately determined the result of the 2021 Drivers’ Championship.
Max Verstappen pipped Sir Lewis Hamilton to the title last month following a highly controversial Safety Car restart which came after a crash for Williams’ Nicholas Latifi.
The Canadian slammed into the barrier with just a handful of laps remaining of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, prompting a pit stop for the Dutchman.
Mercedes opted not to box Hamilton, fearing that time constraints would see the race end behind the Safety Car, making track position vital.
As a result, five lapped runners stood between Hamilton and his rival, and Masi made the bizarre decision to permit only the five to un-lap themselves, while the others had to stay put.
The 24-year-old would then grab the opportunity to dive down the inside of Hamilton into Turn 5 on the final lap to take his first F1 world title.
Mercedes team principle Toto Wolff let Masi know of his dissatisfaction at the decision on the final lap, saying “This is so not right,” to which the Australian replied: “It’s called a motor race.”
The Silver Arrows dropped their appeal of the championship classification, and rumours have since been debunked that Masi and head of single-seater technical matters Nikolas Tombazis were removed from their positions.
Instead, it appears that they will simply be reporting to Peter Bayer from 2022 onwards.
Meanwhile, Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has defended Masi’s decision, adding that the race director “had the hardest job in the world” during the closing laps of the race at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Herbert, however, sees this as no excuse for the “totally wrong” finish in December.
“I think that the biggest issue that we’ve got is the decision that was made was totally wrong,” Herbert said on Sky F1.
“Yes, he [Masi] was under pressure but that is the position that he’s been in,” he added.
Herbert used the late Charlie Whiting – who passed away in 2019 – as an example of a race director that dealt with high-pressure situations with composure.
“We’ve seen the people that have been there before, Charlie Whiting for example, where they’ve been able to deal with that pressure that’s going on. That’s part and parcel of what Formula 1 is all about,” he explained.
Herbert affirmed that the Australian’s job is to enforce the regulations in a manner that is fair to all participants of the grand prix, and condemned Masi’s decision to “twist the rules.”
“When you’re there to make things fair, you don’t twist the rules that you think is actually going to benefit Formula 1 like Michael Masi said at the end about, ‘We wanted to go racing.’”
The 57-year-old said that Verstappen himself had done nothing wrong, and that Masi manufactured a situation that cost the seven-time world champion his record-breaking eighth.
“You don’t go racing after Sir Lewis Hamilton had done one of the best races that he had done all season, and then you take that away from him because you’ve given the advantage to Max, who had done the right call on the pit-stop putting those soft tyres on,” he explained.
Herbert then insisted that Masi deviated from Safety Car protocol, leading to an “unfair” result.
“You don’t then change everything with the rules to allow the race to go green for that one lap when it’s totally unfair.
“The result we got at the end of it, which was very unfortunate, was totally wrong.”
Despite Hamilton’s defeat to Verstappen, Mercedes did manage to seal their record-eighth consecutive Constructors’ Championship in Abu Dhabi.