Christian Horner contacted Michael Masi after ‘unfair’ Abu Dhabi treatment

Henry Valantine
Christian Horner walking through the paddock. FIA F1 Monaco GP, May 2022.

Christian Horner has said he got in touch with the under-fire Michael Masi after the drama of last season’s finale in Abu Dhabi unfolded.

The former race director received heavy criticism after the race got back underway for the final lap having previously been under Safety Car conditions, with Max Verstappen overtaking Lewis Hamilton on the last lap of the season to take his maiden title.

Fallout from the race continued for weeks afterwards, with Mercedes feeling Hamilton had been denied an eighth World Championship through the FIA’s rules not being observed on that occasion.

The Red Bull team principal acknowledged that not letting every lapped car past the Safety Car was an error on Masi’s part, but felt seeing the season finish on track was the right thing to have happened – citing this year’s Italian Grand Prix as evidence of the disappointment at seeing races finish in yellow flag conditions.

“Yes, on a couple of occasions,” Horner revealed on Formula 1’s Beyond the Grid podcast when asked if he had spoken to Masi.

“I felt that it wasn’t fair, the way he had been treated, because I think that he’d done the best that he could following the principles that have been told.

“The only thing he screwed up on was not allowing the final two cars at the back of the field to unlap themselves. But everything [else] that he’d done, you know, it was absolutely by the book and followed the principles of getting them to finish racing on track.

“And as we saw recently in Monza, nobody wants to see a race diluted and finished under a Safety Car.

“So he did everything to get that race going again, which would have been a horrendous finish to the season, see it just diluted and peter out under a Safety Car.

“And then I think the reaction after the race, there was a huge amount of abuse sent out to him, there was death threats to his family. No individual deserves to go through what he did.”

McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl recently revealed after Monza’s Safety Car finish that the teams could not agree on a way forward regarding Safety Car regulations after last year, with a “fair solution” not found in sporting terms.

An internal investigation from the FIA took place into the fallout from Abu Dhabi in early 2022, which resulted in rules surrounding lapped cars being clarified in the written regulations, and Masi being removed from the race director’s role before leaving the FIA altogether recently.

A part of the FIA’s plan was to introduce joint race directors, with Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas having been appointed to share the significant responsibilities between then, in order to reduce the pressure on one person through the course of a season.

Red Bull team principal Horner assured that issues still occur this season as part of the sporting process of feeling “aggrieved by the referee”, and while he did not agree with every decision Masi made while in post, he feels the Australian did not have the full infrastructure he needed around him in that moment.

“They’re obviously new, they’re obviously very competent, they’ve got experience but we still see issues obviously happen now and again, they’re continuing to learn and evolve,” Horner said of the new joint race directors.

“But you know, it’s a new chapter within the FIA. I think that Michael, in difficult circumstances, did the very best he could throughout the year.

“And we have to remember he’s had very little support in that Race Control tower, he’s left very much on his own up there, and when you follow the process of how they’re looking at how cars are unlapped or not, it’s back to pens and pieces of paper.

Zak Brown, Christian Horner and Michael Masi. Abu Dhabi, December 2020.

“He didn’t have all the backup that the teams have, for example, with our operations rooms and the software and so on – it was still a very, very rudimentary process.

“And there were things that we felt very aggrieved about earlier in the year, or even earlier in that race, where Max passed Lewis on the first lap, and Lewis wasn’t instructed to give the place back and we felt that again was, you know, a very harsh decision that had gone against us.

“We felt that were harsh decisions in Qatar, for example, harsh decisions in Saudi Arabia, and leniency shown at different times.

“But that’s subjective to each individual, where you’re probably always going to feel a bit aggrieved by the referee.”

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