‘Michael Masi was not thinking about Netflix’s rating in Abu Dhabi finale’

Michelle Foster
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen start final lap. FIA F1 Abu Dhabi December 2021

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen start the final lap of the 2021 season. Abu Dhabi December 2021

James Gay-Rees, the producer of Netflix’s tennis docuseries Break Point, has rubbished the idea that Michael Masi was taking playing to the cameras when he made his controversial call at the 2021 Abu Dhabi title-decider.

The events of that Sunday, from Christian Horner’s “let them race” to Toto Wolff’s “no, Michael, no!” to Masi’s “it’s called motor racing”, a lot has been said about the 2021 season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The title-decider was the last race in which Masi was the FIA race director, the Australian leaving the position after facing a barrage of criticism for his controversial – and unprecedented – decision to only let the cars between race leader Hamilton and second placed Max Verstappen unlap themselves.

That was five of the lapped cars, the other three told to hold station because there wasn’t enough time for them all to make their way past the leaders meaning the race – and the title fight – would have finished behind the Safety Car.

While Red Bull celebrated, Mercedes fumed with other drivers also voicing their opinions.

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Carlos Sainz, who was running third at the start of the final lap and had lapped cars between himself and Verstappen ahead, called it “unfair” and a “strange” decision while McLaren’s Lando Norris felt Masi was playing to the cameras.

He said: “It was obviously made to be a fight, it was for the TV of course, it was for the result.”

However, Gay-Rees has rubbished that suggestion.

Producing Break Point, the tennis docuseries hoping to capitalise on Drive to Survive’s popularity, he doesn’t for a moment believe Masi was thinking about the ratings.

“I think [Masi] was just under a lot of pressure and got things slightly wrong,” he told The Guardian.

“I don’t think he was thinking ‘What does Netflix want?'”

Gay-Rees, who also produced 2010 docufilm Senna, believes the popularity of Netflix’s spate of sport’s docuseries stems from an “appetite among audiences to go beyond the broadcast version of sport.

“There’s a massive curiosity about elite athletes and a desire to understand sport in a different way, to see the personal investment by going behind the curtain.”

Netflix’s docuseries Drive to Survive has been credited with creating a new audience of Formula 1 fans, not only driving the younger market but also the American.

However, it has not been without controversy.

Reigning World Champion Max Verstappen refused to participate as he felt Netflix was blurring the lines by creating rivalries that weren’t there and damaging reputations by doing so.

He did sit in front of the camera last year, giving the network an interview. He says he hopes they are “going to use it well.”

“I don’t know when I am going to watch it but I hope I will be happy after watching it,” he said.

“I know it is important to F1 for growing the sport in general.”