Who is Michael Masi, F1 race director accused of ‘stealing’ Lewis Hamilton’s title
The eyes of the world were firmly focused on Formula 1 on Sunday afternoon, and even more so on race director Michael Masi after a hugely controversial end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
With Lewis Hamilton in the lead in the later stages, a shunt involving Nicholas Latifi brought out a safety car and a series of contentious decisions led Max Verstappen to overtake rival Mercedes on the last lap of the final race of the season.
But who is Race Director Masi and what has happened that is so controversial? Right here, Sportsmail have a look…
Max Verstappen won the world championship after beating Lewis Hamilton in late drama
Race director Michael Masi was at the center of huge controversy at Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
First, what happened on Sunday?
Until the final stages of the race, Masi and his FIA team will have been satisfied with the way the race was going. There was very little going on, and if the spotlight is far from it, it usually means there is very little controversy.
That was until Williams driver Nicholas Latifi said hello to the wall and left his mutilated car on the race line. The stewards had no choice but to pull out a safety car, which decimated Hamilton’s lead and opened the door for Verstappen.
Initially, it looked like Masi was not going to allow the overtaken cars to run, as stated in the rules, meaning that Hamilton had practically won the title, given that there would be a lap to go, and Verstappen had five more cars. between him and his title rival.
At the last moment, however, the unbuckled cars were told to step aside, leaving a one-lap shootout between Hamilton and Verstappen to decide the title.
The Red Bull man, with cooler tires, managed the pass with relative ease, which caused Mercedes fury that their man had indeed been robbed of the title by one man – Michael Masi.
The day after the race, two Mercedes claims were denied by the FIA, and the team now has until Thursday to decide whether to go further. On that one, it’s a “look at this space” situation, but Masi is certainly in the spotlight.
Verstappen’s cooler tires allowed him to dive past Hamilton and then win the title
Hamilton was left stumped at the end of the race, having missed an eighth world title
So who is Michael Masi?
Put simply, he is the FIA Formula One Race Director – the man who makes the decisions on race day and makes sure everything runs smoothly. Of course, there is a sense of irony in that today, given that things were far from smooth over the weekend.
He is also “safety delegate”, “permanent starter” and “head of the F1 technical department”, which gives him a lot of weight behind the scenes of F1.
On race weekends, his role is to manage Grand Prix logistics, inspect cars in the parc fermé before a race, enforce FIA rules and monitor the lights that start each race. Every Friday before a Grand Prix, Masi also holds a driver briefing to discuss issues related to the track.
In her early forties, Masi is originally from Sydney, Australia and is of Italian descent. He first studied marketing before entering motorsport and first began his career as a volunteer in the Supercars touring series.
Masi is from Sydney, Australia and has been the FIA Formula One Race Director since 2019
How long has he had this job?
It had only been since 2019 and when he first got it he admitted himself that he had been “thrown into the deep end”.
Masi only reached the top level of motorsport in 2018, when he was appointed by the International Automobile Federation as Deputy Race Director for Formula 2 and Formula 3. At the same time, he was assistant to F1 race director Charlie Whiting.
Whiting’s tragic death just days before the start of the 2019 season “as a result of pulmonary embolism” left the sport in a difficult position, and Masi has taken the lead this season.
He’s been in charge ever since, last weekend marking the end of his third season in the role.
Masi had flown under the radar before, but better access this season made it harder
Have there been other controversies?
Until this season, Masi has been very low key, but it’s fair to say that 2021 hasn’t been easy for him. The new broadcast technology introduced this season means Masi is much more visible to the public than it was before.
Now fans can listen to Masi’s discussions with the team leaders and viewers get a better sense of the decisions he is making and why they happened.
That, coupled with the fact that there has been a lot of controversy in a close title fight this season, has resulted in the Australian getting a lot of stick from the fans and the teams.
There was a previous incident in Russia in 2020, where Hamilton took offense with two five-second penalties, then said, “I’m pretty sure no one has had two five-second penalties for something so ridiculous before.
Masi has to be through everything F1; pictured, Bahrain 2020 – The Australian is at the scene of Romain Grosjean’s fireball crash just hours after the incident
He also claimed that “they’re trying to stop me, aren’t they? Masi fired back, insisting that “if a rule violation occurred they would consider it on its merits,” insisting that the driver being Hamilton had no bearing on the decision.
Of course, Saudi Arabia in the penultimate race of this season is still at the forefront, in which Masi sparked controversy in the way he handled a string of incidents between Verstappen and Hamilton.
He was forced to intervene after a restart in the 15th round when the Dutchman chopped up the interior of rival Mercedes, forcing him to take evasive action and thus pushing him back in order.
Masi came to an “agreement” with Red Bull that Verstappen would make way for Hamilton, but the two then collided, leaving Hamilton to complain about Verstappen’s “dangerous driving”.
Masi was in the crosshairs in Saudi Arabia when Verstappen (left) and Hamilton collided
Will he be likely to be in charge next season?
In truth, it is probably too early to make a call on this at this time. The dust is far from settling on the 2021 season and F1 will be keen to end this controversy before they start looking to March 2022 and the start of next season.
That said, information released on Monday claimed that Masi is “fighting for his job” following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Sun writes that he turned out to be overwhelmed and that “the Australian is about to pay off with his work when the FIA elects a new president on December 17”.
Jean Todt is stepping down to be replaced by Mohammed Ben Sulayem or Graham Stoker, and pressure has been reported to be mounting on them to make replacing Masi their first job.
It is not yet known if Masi will keep his post before the 2022 Formula 1 season
And have we ever heard of Masi?
Not directly, but his close friend Mark Skaife, five-time Australian motor racing champion, lifted the veil on his post-race feelings.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald in the wake of Sunday’s race, he insisted that Masi has very thick skin and more than capable of handling any stick he receives.
“I got a couple of messages from Michael and he’s doing well – he’s a tough, resilient sports administrator, someone who loves racing and wants only the best in auto racing,” Skaife said.
“He has worked at the highest levels of motorsport administration for a long, long time.
“What happened will be a debate on water coolers next week, and everyone will have their point of view.
“I think you had to finish a race with a run, and what Michael tried to do was the right thing.
“Michael’s tenure this year, and we’re talking about a season that has been the most volatile and competitive in Formula 1 history, is to have that ‘gaming mentality’, and Michael wanted to s’ ensure that he would keep the cars racing.
“You never wanted to see one of the great seasons end in safe car conditions. ”