Formula One champion Max Verstappen defended Michael Masi’s management on Thursday, saying the criticized former race director was unfairly fired after last season’s controversial end.
“They really threw it under the bus,” Verstappen said.
Last week, the FIA dismissed Masi after the incident at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which decided the title in December.
Verstappen claimed his first world title after overtaking defending champion Lewis Hamilton on the final lap after Massi ordered the race restarted.
“I found it unacceptable that he was fired in such a way,” Verstappen said during pre-season testing in Barcelona on Thursday.
“I also sent him a message. Firing him immediately was not the right decision. I wish him the best in whatever comes next and I hope it is better than being an F1 race director,” he added.
Masi’s decision turned the F1 title race on its head, just as Hamilton was close to claiming his eighth world title and setting a new record. What followed generated confusion and anger on several fronts.
Hamilton was leading comfortably until Nicholas Latifi’s crash brought in the safety car with five laps to go. With the yellow flag, Verstappen took the opportunity to change his tires. Masi intervened by authorizing Verstappen to overtake the cars straggling behind Hamilton. It was thus that the Dutchman was behind him and, with his new soft tires, he overtook the Briton on the last lap.
“That the people who fired him allowed (the rule) in the first instance is unacceptable,” Verstappen said. “I thought it was unbelievable, so I feel bad for Michael. That he got fired is really unbelievable.”
Verstappen believes Masi was in a difficult position, with Hamilton’s Mercedes chief executive Toto Wolff and Red Bull chief Christian Horner arguing heatedly amidst a high-pressure environment.
“Could you imagine a referee in any sport who has the coach yelling in his ear all the time? It’s a yellow card, a red card, no decision, it wasn’t a foul,” Verstappen said, comparing the situation to a soccer referee.
Motorsport’s governing body has set up a new structure for race day, including a virtual race control room.
“What we talked about last year was the issue of inconsistencies,” Wolff recalled Wednesday. “You don’t have to have a room to interpret the regulations.” (GG) (AP)