Ousted F1 race director Masi was “thrown under the bus”, says Verstappen

2022 F1 season

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Max Verstappen has spoken out against the FIA’s decision to remove Michael Masi as Formula 1 race director, saying he was “thrown under the bus” by the FIA.

Masi had occupied the role of F1’s race director since the beginning of the 2019 season after the sudden death of Charlie Whiting, who had held the role for many years.

He lost his role following an FIA investigation into the finish of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in which Masi was accused of contravening the rules by organising a late restart, after which Verstappen passed Lewis Hamilton to win the world championship. New FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem announced that Masi would not remain race director and the role will be shared by Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich this year.

Speaking in Barcelona, Verstappen criticised the decision to move Masi into a new post within the FIA. He said Masi was under extreme levels of pressure with team principals Toto Wolff and Christian Horner communicating directly with him during races.

“I think it’s not correct,” Verstappen said. “For me, it’s very unfair what happened to Michael because he’s really been thrown under the bus.

“Of course people talk a lot about what was decided in Abu Dhabi, but can you imagine the referee in whatever sport having the coach or equivalent screaming in his ear all the time: ‘yellow card’, ‘red card’, ‘no decision’, ‘no foul’? It’s impossible to make a decision.

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“So I think, in the first place, F1 really allowing for team members could talk to him while making decisions is very wrong, because it needed to be Michael making the decisions on his own without having people screaming in his ear.”

Verstappen says that he has a large amount of sympathy for Masi and revealed he had reached out to the former race director during the off season.

“I feel really sorry for Michael because I think he was a really capable and good race director,” he said. “I have nothing against the new race directors because I think they are also very capable and very good race directors, but personally for Michael, I felt really sad and I sent him a text as well. So not the right decision.”

Verstappen believes that future race directors deserve to have more support due to the complex and high-pressure nature of the role.

“After Charlie died, it’s very hard to take over from someone like him,” Verstappen explained. “He had so much experience from previous years. And also Charlie had a lot of help around him and maybe Michael just needed a little bit more.

“Everybody needs experience. I came into this sport my first year – when I look back at it now I was a complete rookie and now I’m so much further than I was back then and I think it would have been the same for Michael. So to immediately sack him, for me, was not the right decision. But I wish him all the best with whatever comes next and I hope it is better than being an F1 race director.”

Sebastian Vettel also voiced his appreciation for Masi’s time as race director, saying that Masi always had an “open ear” to drivers and their concerns.

“Obviously the decision is taken and he’s not going to be in that role anymore,” Vettel said. “So we will see going forwards, but I hope whoever is coming will be working as hard and as committed as Michael was.”

Charles Leclerc said that Masi had “tried to take the best decision in his opinion all the time”.

“I have a lot of respect for Michael, for what he has done,” said Leclerc. “As we’ve seen in the last race, it’s not easy. You need to take the decision quickly. Having said that, he will still be there in a different position and I wish him the best. Then for the future, let’s see. I’m pretty sure that the FIA has more information than we do on all of this and they took, in their opinion, the best solution for Formula 1, which I hope will be the case.”

Fernando Alonso also echoed his rivals’ views, saying he believed Masi had always prioritised driver safety in races.

“I surely think that Michael was trying to protect us all the time – which is what we ask from a race director,” Alonso said.

“All the decisions, sometimes it will be okay for some and not okay for some others, because you will never feel fair on some of the decisions as it has happened to me – track limits in lap one and things like that. Even if I felt was not fighting for the world championship, you always feel that sometimes it gets okay and sometimes not. But he was protecting us.”

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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88 comments on “Ousted F1 race director Masi was “thrown under the bus”, says Verstappen”

  1. He was.

    And it would behove you, Will and Claire, to also quote Vettel, Alonso and Leclerc on this, who all agreed with Verstappen.

    1. Ironic that he would not have been fired had he kept favouring Mercedes, fortunately he corrected the call that lapped cars were not going to overtake. I’m not sure he would have kept his job if he had played the correction by the book.

      1. The “he was favoring Mercedes” argument falls flat when you consider the horrendous driving Vestappen’s been allowed to get away with.
        If Masi wanted to keep his job, all he had to do was follow the rules as not only the regulations say, but he also confirmed was the case.

    2. I agree that he was thrown under the bus, although I don’t mourn for him. I do not think he has done a great job as race director, and Abu Dhabi was just the final part of that bad job, and I don’t think F1 will be any worse off for his removal.

      However, that’s not enough by far to fix the issues in the “sport” right now, and the issues could have been fixed with him still in place.

      1. Totally agree

    3. Click & debate equals money. We knew it the moment f1fanatics changed into racefans

  2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    24th February 2022, 13:13

    Remember, this is motor racing, Max… Everyone’s bound to accidentally win a championship here and there or lose their job for gifting that championship.

  3. Max will miss him :)

    But seriously I think it’s probable Masi got an instruction from on high, and so he has been thrown under the bus. It’s just too unlikely he made that perfect initial decision, that was all set to give an exciting racing finish, and then changed it to something so unfair and illegal just to please one team.

    1. @zann are you saying somebody higher up in the organisation didn’t want somebody’s 7-championship record broken, perhaps?

      1. There are quite a few benefits from the Max win aren’t there @gardenfella72. Yes that, and a lot of people were bored with Hamilton, a lot wanted a more ordinary guy they can identify with, a more intense rivalry this year, a different team from Mercedes, so generally there’s more interest and money in F1 now. You can imagine F1/FIA/Liberty/Sponsors much preferring a Max win.

        Masi sounded so stressed out, so unsure, indecisive, and I think this is why. I think he’s basically a decent guy, not that strong in the head, who was being made to do something he knew was wrong. And the stewards knew what the circus wanted as well, and they were with him in the room.

        1. @zann you couldn’t get a more ordinary guy than Lewis, considering his background. Unless by ‘ordinary’ you mean like every other driver on the grid in some superficial way, of course.

          1. you couldn’t get a more ordinary guy than Lewis

            Thanks for the laugh @gardenfella72.
            That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever read on this site.

          2. I think, in terms of where he came from compared to other drivers, you are right. His father was an upper-middle-class manager, he didn’t come from a racing family or a very wealthy family. In terms of his background, he is much closer to an “ordinary” person than most drivers on the grid.

            Now, in his position since he became successful, I don’t think he is, but then again I don’t think any driver on the grid is. They all have positions of wealth and privilege beyond that most of us can dream of.

          3. Not like every other guy on the grid but more like a lot of fans, especially new fans, DTS converts, people who find Lewis a bit weird, people who identify with a guy who races cars and then just goes home and plays car racing games. A driver who’s not soppy or girly with poncy rainbow causes and being soooo sensitive with that empathy crap, but more tough and shoving and a boxer. F1 is full of people saying how much extra interest there is now, with Max. And lots of non-blokish non-racists were ready for a change too.

          4. @drmouse

            It’s pretty amusing that upper-middle class is now ordinary. It seems to me that Alonso and Verstappen come from much more culturally lower class backgrounds. Alonso’s father was a factory mechanic and Jos’ father was a bar owner. Jos might have been a F1 racer, but I see him as a ‘beer in a bar’ guy, not a ‘champagne at a Monaco party’ kind of guy.

            I think that Alonso and especially Max have lower class tendencies that many people react negatively to, like a level of rudeness and competitiveness that many consider to be unacceptable.

            Now, in his position since he became successful, I don’t think he is, but then again I don’t think any driver on the grid is.

            Well, like Zann said, Max seems to just be a gamer, not that much different from many ordinary guys.

          5. It’s pretty amusing that upper-middle class is now ordinary.

            It’s closer to ordinary than all the “daddy is a billionaire” drivers on the grid. There may be some who are from “more ordinary” backgrounds, but there are a lot who are from very rich, privileged backgrounds. Jos is estimated to have a personal fortune of $8m… That’s certainly more than would be expected of “upper-middle class”.

            Anthony Hamilton was only in the realms of “upper middle class” due to hard work, “dragging” himself up, but certainly never had access to millions (at least before the success of his son, he may now).

        2. Even though I’m white, I easily identify with Lewis.
          With Max, not at all. This may have to do with the relentless bullying on track and from his team.

          1. @ldom Agree – I think I moe

          2. @ldom Damn, accidentally hit post…

            I struggle to find anything in common with a family of wife-beaters and bullies, and I hope it stays that way.

      2. somebody higher up in the organisation

        @gardenfella are you implying Jean Todt had a hand in this? I would imagine that would have been revealed fairly early in the investigation, especially given that individual was no longer in his position of authority. There is no basis for this conspiracy theory.

        1. @The Dolphins you would imagine that would have been revealed?

          You think there’s some kind of record of every “quiet word in someone’s ear?”

          1. There is the small matter that before they even finished the investigation they had already declared their would be no admission of wrong doing by the FIA…

    2. I agree, but I think Masi was planning on following the rules then got a call saying you better not let this race finish behind the safety car. Which resulted in the mess we got.

      1. The point of him first saying lapped cars can’t unlap was to make sure the race did NOT need to finish behind the safety car @velocityboy

        Because unlapping the cars would cost an extra lap of SC, according to the rules. The race was never going to finish under yellow.

        1. With the backmarkers in between the decision would have been within the rules and thereby fair. If Max would have then catched Ham, them the SC would have been unfortunate for HAM, but Max would have been the legit WDC. I guess nobody would have argued against it then.

          1. Exactly, and it’d have been more exciting too.

  4. Verstappen sticking up for his mate who gave him his title. Move on, nothing to see here.

  5. Masi had 3 years in the role to gain experience.

    If you are responsible, you must also be accountable.

    1. And in those 3 years he had a laundry list of mistakes and bad decisions with no indication he was learning from them or improving.

      1. A laundry list? Really? You sure you’re not confusing this with the many decisions that were in the stewards’ hands and not Masi’s?

  6. He did not follow the rules as they were written and had previously been interpreted.

    He appeared to change his decision based specifically on suggestions made by a particular team.

    His decision ultimately changed the outcome of the race and, more importantly, the Championship.

    His actions brought the FIA into disrepute and diminished the achievements of a worthy Champion.

    He’s not been “thrown under the bus“. From what I can see, he’s being treated surprisingly leniently.

    1. He was not kicked out when he did not follow the rules that were written in
      Bahrain. Is it just a coincidence that in that case Merc benefitted?

      1. You may need to explain what you’re implying as it sounds like you’re making stuff up.

        1. The rule is that drivers need to stay within the white lines.

    2. @sonnycrockett you say it as if Masi did not favour merc on a number of times. The initial call that lapped cars would not overtake was as a result of mercedes blaring into his ear. When the stewards, that Hamilton derided, had a say they almost always went beyond logic to favour Hamilton. I’d say Masi trying to avoid calling the stewards was very damning to the fia. Major decisions taken as an agreement between both merc and rb is also very damning. I think often he was genuinely trying to balance things out. Had the nothing of Interlagos gone to the stewards, max would have penalised, for what Hamilton fresh out of his car described as hard racing. I’m glad Masi is out but I must recognise that in the end he made up for the mistakes of the entire season by making another one.

      1. I think often he was genuinely trying to balance things out.

        It isn’t his job to “balance things out”. It’s his job to direct the race safely, applying the rules without favour.

        Two wrongs do not make a right. If he really believed that rules were being broken in a way which favoured Lewis/Mercedes, he should have stopped that happening, not broken them in a way which favoured Max to “balance things out”.

      2. The initial call that lapped cars would not overtake was as a result of mercedes blaring into his ear.

        this is a fabrication.

      3. Under the rules, there wasn’t enough laps left of the race to do the un-lapping procedure including the one complete lap after the lapped cars had passed the safety car.

        So if the race was to be under green flag conditions the only option was not to let any lapped cars move out of the way.

        1. Is it in the rules that a race must finish under a green? I’m still struggling to understand how he was chucked under a bus?

          I have no sympathy.

          FIA allowed this situation to happen over the course of the season.

          1. @icarby It is not in the rules. There seems to have been some kind of unspoken agreement that it should, I would have expected some kind of rule about it to be brought in after 2012 if it was that much of a problem.

  7. It’s impossible to argue that he wasn’t. They put all the blame on Masi and used him as a scapegoat by “promoting him away.”

    It doesn’t really matter whether you like Masi or if you’re glad he’s gone or not, he was literally scapegoated either way.

    1. “It’s impossible to argue that he wasn’t. They put all the blame on Masi”

      Impossible you say?

      It was his job to ensure the race is run to the regulations, it was not. He got sacked.

      That was easy.

      1. So you legitimately think only Masi was the problem and the problem is therefor now solved?

        Good, then the scapegoating actually did what FIA intended for it to do.

        1. Not at all. Nor do I think Masi was relieved of his duties as Race Director solely because of Abu Dhabi.

          Race management has been increasingly erratic under his leadership.

        2. @sjaakfoo The root of the problem is not solved. The FIA still haven’t said that Masi broke the rules, meaning it could happen again. Until any suggestion that a Race Director can ignore the regulations in favour of “the show” is removed, this is still a problem. Even if there isn’t another controversial incident, any race results only exist because the Race Director approves of it.

          That said, Masi is still the one who decided to ignore the regulations and directly influence the race’s outcome. They might be using his sacking as a smokescreen, but it was still 100% necessary.

    2. Literally scapegoated? Not even metaphorically. Mistakes were made. He was held accountable, albeit by being promoted.

    3. Rules are rules*
      24th February 2022, 14:04

      All he had to do was simple follow the rules, what are you even talking about. Rules first, show second

  8. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
    24th February 2022, 13:32

    Now it is Verstappen’s turn to not allow the past to rest.

  9. He’s sporting that number 1* just like you’d expect Max to sport it.

    1. He probably chose the number 1 after reading the f1 fanatic season rankings, or any other website including british ones.

      1. He did drive very well, just needed an extra bit of help there to get over the finish line.

  10. Masi was far from the only problem. But he very much contributed to the problem regardless, so I think him having to go was the right decision.

    can you imagine the referee in whatever sport having the coach or equivalent screaming in his ear all the time: ‘yellow card’, ‘red card’, ‘no decision’, ‘no foul’? It’s impossible to make a decision

    This is interesting. Is he indirectly criticising Horner and Wheatley (and Wolff etc.) in this. That’s how I read it at least.

    1. True. He is criticising his own Team Principal there, as well as any others. Not sure how much Christian will appreciate that.

      Also, it was part of his job to keep the TPs etc in line. He had the power to say “No, get lost”, to ignore them, direct them elsewhere or tell them he would talk to them later. The fact that they were “screaming in his ear all the time” shows a failure on his part.

      1. @drmouse – “He had the power to say “No, get lost”, to ignore them, direct them elsewhere or tell them he would talk to them later” if he did do this I would’ve had a significant amount of respect for him…

    2. Although I like he usually voices his opinion (right or wrong), it’s hardly a controversial one this time, right? Even Horner and Wolff themselves have admitted it might actually be better if they didn’t have the race director on the hotline…

      1. baasbas Yeah you beat me to it. Was just going to say pretty much the same.

        @drmouse I don’t entirely disagree that MM could have put a stop to the ‘screaming in his ear all the time,’ however, firstly I think the vast majority of the time it is not ‘screaming all the time,’ and secondly the TPs have always been able to have a bit of say and make a point here and there on behalf of their team and drivers, and it is usually done so politely and respectfully that I don’t think it has really been that much of a problem, until of course we had such a close rivalry for the whole season last year, that got heated, and that includes the rivalry between CH and TW.

        I was prompted to search a bit the other day for things Masi has had to say on this and I found an article from back last July which I only got to read once before I would have to subscribe in order to read it again or link it, but in it Masi speaks of fully understanding the TPs are going to have their opinion based on what is best for them, and the chatter in his ear didn’t bother him because he always understood that it was just understandable and expected that TPs would do this. He also acknowledged, and we have known this for decades, that F1 likes to feed the audience select radio comms in order to create/enhance the show a bit, so in that sense Masi was fully fine with, as I say, the vast majority of times the TPs just coming on and politely having their say and some of that being shared with the audience.

        So…’failure on his part?’ No I think that is a bit heavy handed as Masi has (had) played his role as F1 had wanted that role to be played for the most part. It’s not like once Whiting passed Masi went the route of a huge departure from how the job was being done, particularly when it comes to dealing with TP radio comm.

        1. @robbie That’s a fair enough view. However, if that’s the way they want it, that’s the way he chose to allow things to be done, then it negates calls that “screaming in his ear” was the cause of his screw ups.

          If I am chairing a meeting, everyone starts shouting and screaming at each other and I firmly try to stop it but some bad actors continue anyway, I can’t bear much responsibility and can blame them if the meeting doesn’t meet its goals. If I didn’t try to stop it, then I would hold a large part of that responsibility myself. If I actively allowed or encouraged it to happen, then the blame falls firmly in my own lap.

          1. @drmouse I do take your point with your chairing a meeting analogy, but I just don’t think it was really ‘screaming in his ear’ that was going on, but rather an inundation of calls at once at a very tense time with very little time to react. With your theoretical meeting, you as chair could have always just said you know what folks we’re not being very productive at the moment so let’s take 15 and come back more composed and let’s solve these issues constructively.

            Masi that I’m aware of never actively encouraged ‘screaming’ nor even being inundated, and it was imho always very polite and diplomatic communication with TPs, including with Whiting, and then for the three years Masi held the post. Imho that is why even the likes of CH and TW feel bad for how they inundated Masi, but of course it was due to some very unique circumstances that were extremely time-sensitive.

  11. He should say nothing about it. The complaint that Masi’s job was so hard because coaches were yelling in his ear makes me cringe since you know RBR was as bad as anyone in that regard. It’s not like Hamilton is now out there saying I told you so to everyone. So Verstappen doesn’t need to get into it even to defend himself and his title.

    1. Ahah, would be funny if hamilton did that though, after he saw masi got fired!

  12. Red Bull was threatening to quit F1 altogether in the past for less.
    Now imagine if Masi had made a decision that took the title from Verstappen?

    I doubt they would be there testing today.

  13. Masi should have been thrown under the wheels of a Mercedes.

    1. Now, that’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Disagreeing with his actions is one thing. Removing him from his job is up to the FIA.

      Wishing someone physical harm over a race result makes you a terrible human being.

      1. I’m pretty sure it’s just a joke based on “throwing under the bus” title.

        1. Yeah, just like all those “jokes” Latifi received that led to him hiring a bodyguard.

          Too much anger and hatred running around right now– if you’re gonna make a joke like that, make sure it’s obviously a joke.

          The internet is very good at removing context.

        2. Yup Esploratore, you got it!

  14. When orders from silver farts were not fully implemented, fia decided to throw the muppet under the bus.

  15. Valid points, but equally justified criticism.

  16. He’s been removed in the context of a bigger political game behind the scenes. Otherwise, there is no point of appointing two race directors that were equally involved in controversial title deciding incidents in both DTM and WEC (GTE Pro). Masi is what remains from Jean Todt presidency and if he was still in charge at the FIA he would have defended him to death. That’s Jean management style, very severe with the people working under his leadership but will never sacrifice them.

    Mohammed Ben Sulayem has not only removed Masi but he started his campaign reorganizing the structures and introducing changes as well. This is expected from a new president that wants things to be done his way. What bothers me in all this is the shadow of Bernie Ecclestone in the new Ben Sulayem era.

    The FIA started to move on from Bernie Ecclestone in the last days of Max Mosley who lost the support of both Ferrari and Bernie after his private life scandal. To politically avenge his defeat, Mosley chose Todt who didn’t leave Ferrari on good terms as his preferred choice for FIA president. There is also the appointment of Herbie Blash, another Bernie man to support the new race directors and let’s not forget that Bernie’s wife Fabiana is a vice president for sport overseeing South America.

  17. Whilst Max was innocent of what happened in Abu Dhabi, his and Red Bulls ability to ignore how wrong the decisions made on that day is very telling. Verstappen is the world champion, but to ignore the failings of the race director is criminal. Whilst it is obvious to any who supports fair sport; that fairness was the one thrown under the bus that day, as a HUGE Hamilton fan, I recognise that Max, over the whole season, was as deserving of the world championship as Lewis was and was in no way involved in the debacle of Abu Dhabi, but to claim that the race director does not deserve any and all punishment imposed upon him is simply blind. Max is a deserving champion over the course of the season, but that race belonged and was fairly earned by Lewis

  18. Well, don’t count yourself irresponsible for this Max

  19. What else was Max supposed to say on this subject?

  20. Who wouldn’t want a referee who doesn’t question their antics.
    Verstappen and Redbull are living in a warped universe where anything that only works in their own interest is fair.

  21. And the bus driver is…

  22. Max is a true sportsman champion. He doesnt care he rubs against the new FIA management despite running the risk they disadvantage him throughout the season again, but just speaks his mind. Even about someone who has disadvantaged him more than he benefitted from him. People dont get that he really doesnt give a .. about any pr or opinion about him. He just wants to race. All the rest is a nuisance. If F1 wasnt broadcasted or a well paid circus, he’d still be in it. What a breath of fresh air vs some previous champions.

    1. he was gifted a paper title, which by far outweights any decision against him (most came from the stewards due to his missing driving ethics). only his most biased and blinded fans are unable to comprehend the facts

      1. Well, you are entitled to your opinion and more than welcome. I feel Max has done a stellar job finishing either 1st or 2nd in every bar 4 races. In two of those he was shunted off by direct competitor Mercedes and one was a flat tyre. Somehow the circus did manage however to let Hamilton be on equal points going into the final race, something that should never have happened and the WDC should have been wrapped up by that time already. It was a result of a staged season in which Mercedes got their so desired better tyre in season, got their competitor to change their wings while being caught wing cheating themselves later, the pitstop advantage of RB was taken away, they had many favorable red flags and so on. So, yes you can look at just the final race if you please. I have however seen the whole season.

  23. Davethechicken
    27th February 2022, 9:51

    Lol, my thoughts exactly.
    I think the bus was the No. 33 “Verstappen Express” not stopping at the towns of FairPlay, Rules or Ethics. Horner and Wheatley assured Masi just to stand on the road!

    1. Davethechicken
      27th February 2022, 9:52

      Meant for hyoko

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