Former F1 Race Director Michael Masi has popped up in the F1 paddock for the first time since the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Masi has been an absent figure from the Formula 1 paddock since the 2021 season finale at the Yas Marina Circuit, where his decision-making as then-FIA Race Director had a direct impact on the outcome of the title fight between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.
The Australian made the decision to withdraw the Safety Car for the final lap of the race, having cleared lapped cars between the leading Hamilton and second-placed Verstappen – the Red Bull driver having taken the opportunity to pit for fresh tyres during the Safety Car intervention.
On the final lap, Verstappen managed to overtake Hamilton to claim the title, with radio messages between Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and Masi becoming infamous as Wolff expressed his displeasure with Masi responding to defend his decision.
The race cost Masi his job, with newly-elected FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem opting to replace Masi with a rotation of Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich for the 2022 season.
Masi, who had been a willing participant with the media in 2021, went into hiding as a result of the extreme levels of online abuse and vitriol – later reports would detail how he and his family received death threats in the aftermath of the race.
Michael Masi: I was sent hundreds of vile messages
Speaking with the Sydney Daily Telegraph last year, Masi described the process of dealing with the hatred he encountered.
“There were some really dark days,” said Masi. “I felt like I was the most hated man in the world. I got death threats, people saying they were going to come after me and my family.
“I still remember walking down the street in London a day or two later. I thought I was okay until I started looking over my shoulder. I was looking at people wondering if they were going to get me.
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“I didn’t go and talk to a professional. With the benefit of hindsight, I probably should have, but I think I downplayed it all to everyone including them.”
Due to a non-disclosure agreement between himself and the FIA, Masi is unable to discuss Abu Dhabi ’21.
“I was confronted with hundreds of messages, and they were shocking,” he said.
“Racist, abusive, vile, they called me every name under the sun. And there were death threats. And they kept on coming. Not just on Facebook but also on LinkedIn, which is supposed to be a professional platform for business. It was the same type of abuse.”
Michael Masi returns home to Australia
Masi, who has allegedly said he’d be interested in a return to an F1 role should one ever be offered to him, now works as chairman of the SuperCars’ Commission in Australia, as well as a director of Karting Australia.
With SuperCars part of the F1’s support programme for this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, Masi has returned to the F1 paddock where he has been spotted chatting with journalists and drivers. He is not due to give any F1-related media appearances.