Red Bull boss Christian Horner defends Michael Masi as FIA under pressure to sack F1 chief

Mercedes boss hopes ‘robbed’ Lewis Hamilton will continue racing

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Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has leapt to the defence of FIA race director Michael Masi, insisting the widespread criticism of the Australian official is “unfair”. Express Sport readers have voted strongly in favour of Masi losing his job with Mercedes unhappy with the outcome of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last weekend (Sunday December 12) after Max Verstappen was crowned the new world champion.

Despite winning the Constructors’ Championship, the Silver Arrows are frustrated with how Masi handled the final laps of the 2021 season finale in the desert after Williams’ Nicholas Latifi found the wall.

A safety car was called out after which the five lapped cars between race leader Lewis Hamilton, poised to win his eighth driver’s title, and second-placed Verstappen were told to unlap themselves.

That was very soon after Masi had said over the radio he would not allow drivers to unlap themselves, with the controversy coming from the fact the drivers behind Verstappen – Daniel Ricciardo, Lance Stroll and Mick Schumacher – were not told to do so after the u-turn.

Verstappen was given the freedom to go wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton on the final lap of the race at the Yas Marina Circuit and had a huge advantage courtesy of his fresh soft tyres, with the Briton by contrast on worn hard compounds.

Mercedes, who also felt the race restart was rushed, had two protests on Sunday thrown out by the stewards and then ultimately withdrew a follow-up appeal on Thursday. They felt the race should have concluded under the safety car, with Hamilton therefore the victory.

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The world champions welcomed an FIA investigation into the events of the race and said in a statement: “We appealed in the interest of sporting fairness, and we have since been in a constructive dialogue with the FIA and Formula One to create clarity for the future, so that all competitors know the rules under which they are racing, and how they will be enforced.

“Thus, we welcome the decision by the FIA to install a commission to thoroughly analyse what happened in Abu Dhabi and to improve the robustness of rules, governance and decision making in Formula One. We also welcome that they have invited the teams and drivers to take part.

“The Mercedes-AMG Petronas team will actively work with this commission to build a better Formula One – for every team and every fan who loves this sport as much as we do. We will hold the FIA accountable for this process and we hereby withdraw our appeal.”

Similarly, Susie Wolff – Toto’s wife and the CEO of Formula E’s Mercedes-partnered Venturi Racing – released her own statement which read: “The way in which Lewis was robbed has left me in utter disbelief.

“The decision of one person within the governing body who applied a rule in a way which has never been done before in F1 single-handedly decided the F1 Driver World Championship. Rules are rules, they can’t be changed on a whim by one individual at the end of a race.”

Express Sport readers, in our latest poll, are also among those frustrated with Masi with the dismissal of the 42-year-old strongly backed. A huge 75 per cent so far have voted in favour of him being removed as race director before the next season.

But Horner has come out to defend the under-fire official, who reports claim is facing the axe, and told the Telegraph: “It’s an exaggeration. Latifi, I’m sure, didn’t intend to crash. It was just an accident.

“The marshals did a great job of recovering the car in time, and Michael opted to get the race going again. It’s unfair, the abuse he has received. One side is always going to be unhappy.”

Similarly, title winner Verstappen said: “It’s a really tough job he has. People say maybe he needs help. Yeah, fair point. Everyone needs help. I need help as well.

“Michael is a nice guy and he tries his very best and it’s very unfair to now start hating on him because it is a very tough job.”

While Wolff said when asked about Masi: “I am not interested in having a conversation with Michael Masi. The decisions that have been taken in the last four minutes of this race have dropped Lewis Hamilton from a deserved world championship.

“His driving, particularly in the last four races, was faultless. He had a commanding lead on Sunday in Abu Dhabi from the get-go.

“He won the start and he never gave the lead away again. Robbing him in the last lap of the race is unacceptable. It is up to the FIA to decide going forward how these decisions, how these situations, can be avoided.”

Horner added to the Telegraph: “We’ve done nothing wrong. We won the race on the track. You can’t examine incidents in isolation. So many decisions had gone against us.

“Even at the beginning of the race in Abu Dhabi, no penalty was given to Hamilton for cutting the chicane. Lots of people have said that Lewis was a sitting duck in Abu Dhabi.

“But tactically, Mercedes made an error. They had the choice to pit, they chose not to, and they left him in that situation.”

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