Who is Michael Masi? Will F1 race director be sacked - how decision affected Hamilton/Verstappen title race

Formula One race director Michael Masi checks on the construction of the Formula One Grand Prix race track in Hanoi in December 2019 (Photo: NHAC NGUYEN/AFP via Getty Images)Formula One race director Michael Masi checks on the construction of the Formula One Grand Prix race track in Hanoi in December 2019 (Photo: NHAC NGUYEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Formula One race director Michael Masi checks on the construction of the Formula One Grand Prix race track in Hanoi in December 2019 (Photo: NHAC NGUYEN/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

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Some fans are calling for Masi’s resignation as Mercedes’ lost out in the final lap of the Abu Dhabi race after an unprecedented decision

Max Verstappen has been confirmed as the winner of the 2021 Formula One world championship after a scintillating last-lap overtake of title rival Lewis Hamilton at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver looked out of the race at various points with Hamilton coasting to a record eighth world title win, but after a safety car came on to deal with a crash just five laps from the race’s end, Verstappen seized the opportunity.

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He changed his tyres during the delay and, after lapped cars were allowed to clear the safety car, he and leader Hamilton had a final-lap race in which the Dutchman prevailed.

The incident has proven controversial though, sparking debate among motorsports fans as to whether the decision taken by race director Michael Masi was the right call.

Here is everything you need to know.

What happened?

Towards the end of the race, a virtual safety car was deployed to clear the stricken Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi, with Verstappen pitting for fresh tyres as Hamilton stayed out in front.

Verstappen may have had the fresher rubber but Hamilton was still untouchable; Red Bull boss Christian Horner admitted the team needed a “miracle” with the gap at 11 seconds with 10 laps remaining.

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That miracle would arrive in the shape of a crash for Williams’ Nicholas Latifi, with Hamilton just five laps from home.

This time an actual safety car was required, and Verstappen would once again take the chance to dive into the pits for a set of soft tyres, lining him up for a shot at Hamilton - on a set of worn, hard compound tyres - if and when the race restarted.

Time appeared to be on Hamilton’s side as the laps ticked down behind the safety car and race director Michael Masi opted to keep the five lapped cars between the leader and Verstappen in place.

Confusion reigned as Masi then changed his mind to allow lapped cars to pass the safety car – meaning Verstappen had a clear run at Hamilton in the final lap - and on much faster tyres.

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Verstappen was ready to pounce and sprung, leading to incredulity from Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, whose anguished screams over the radio accompanied television pictures of Verstappen passing Hamilton on the last lap to take the win.

Who is Michael Masi?

Masi is an Australian motorsports director, who has served as the FIA Formula One Race Director, Safety Delegate, Permanent Starter and head of the F1 Technical Department since March 2019.

As part of his job, Masi manages the logistics of each F1 Grand Prix, inspects cars before a race, enforces FIA rules, and controls the lights that start each race.

Born in Sydney in 1979, Masi’s motor racing career began while he was still in school, volunteering for Super Touring.

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Working his way through the ranks as a deputy race director in the Supercars touring car series and at Rally Australia, in 2018 he was appointed as the Formula Two and Formula Three deputy race director by the FIA.

Masi took on the role of F1 race director Charlie Whiting after his sudden death before the 2019 Australian Grand Prix.

Why was his decision controversial?

Masi's decisions have been criticised on social media and by racing drivers as unusual and to contrive excitement, to create an entertaining finish to the race for TV.

Some pundits have even gone so far as to suggest Masi's decision was to ensure that Netflix gets “another juicy storyline” for the next season of its ‘Drive to Survive’ Formula One docuseries.

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Mercedes immediately launched two appeals against the race result, one against Verstappen for allegedly overtaking under a safety car, and a second claiming a breach of rules regarding race restarts following a safety car period.

The team protested the race result on the grounds that Masi did not follow the correct procedure by allowing the cars directly in front of Verstappen to unlap themselves, and no others, despite initially rejecting requests from Red Bull to do so.

The team argued that this was a breach of Article 48.12 of the 2021 FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations, and if procedure was followed, it would have secured Hamilton's eighth World Drivers' Championship.

Both appeals were dismissed after the two teams spent hours in the stewards’ office, Verstappen able to toast his title more than four hours after crossing the finish line.

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However, Mercedes quickly lodged an intention to appeal against the stewards’ findings, meaning the furore is likely to rumble on, although a decision must be made before the FIA prize-giving ceremony on Thursday (17 December).

On the first issue, Red Bull successfully argued Hamilton had not been overtaken by Verstappen but that both were “on and off the throttle” in preparing to restart the race.

The stewards agreed, finding that Verstappen had passed at one stage but had moved back behind Hamilton before the safety car period came to a conclusion.

Will he be sacked?

The FIA has defended Masi's decision, stating that the Race Director has the "overriding authority" to amend any rule regarding safety car procedure as they wish.

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Far from looking to boot Masi, the FIA are reported to be wanting to protect him, even go so far as to introduce new protocols to help him do his job into the next season.

One proposal being looked at is only allowing teams’ sporting directors to contact Masi during races.

Currently, Masi can be on the end of numerous messages from team bosses, which could be seen to be influencing his decision.

One insider told Sportsmail: “Having one channel in would protect Michael from a barrage of messages that might be seen to try to influence him. Nothing has been decided on this issue but it is being looked into.

“Michael is very good but needs a better team around him.”

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