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“He was just immune to any feedback and even today he has not properly reflected that he did something wrong,” says Toto Wolff as he criticises former F1 race director Michael Masi; Tuesday marks four months since Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi
Last Updated: 12/04/22 6:00am
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has accused former Formula 1 race director Michael Masi of “disrespecting” drivers by acting like he always knew better.
On Tuesday, it will be four months since Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton to the title in last season’s controversial world championship decider in Abu Dhabi. But Masi’s handling of the affair remains a sore topic for Wolff.
Masi was replaced by the FIA for his role in the 2021 finale, with new race directors Niels Wittich and Edoardo Freitas replacing the Australian on a shared basis and already stamping their authority on the grid with a series of regulation crackdowns.
A review into the final stages of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was critical of how Masi handled the process of letting only five lapped cars – the drivers between Hamilton and Verstappen – overtake before bringing the safety car in for the final lap, allowing the Red Bull driver to pass for the lead and claim his maiden world championship.
Wolff’s mind turns to the days before the most contentious finale in F1 history.
“It is quite interesting because I had lunch with him [Masi] on the Wednesday before the race, and I said to him that ‘I really want to tell you, without patronising you, that you need to take criticism on board and develop from there. Lewis does it every day, but you are a guy who always seems to know better’,” he told the PA news agency.
“It wasn’t about influencing him but really giving my honest feedback that he shouldn’t block outside opinion as simply being wrong.
“You hear from the drivers and how the drivers’ briefings were conducted [by Masi] and some of the guys said it was almost disrespectful how he treated some of them.
“He was just immune to any feedback and even today he has not properly reflected that he did something wrong.
“He was a liability for the sport because everybody kept talking about Abu Dhabi and the race director, and the race director should not be somebody that people talk about, but someone who does the job and makes sure the race is run according to the regulations.”
Hamilton is expected to be at Mercedes’ Brackley factory between now and the next race in Imola on April 24 as the Silver Arrows play catch-up with rivals’ Ferrari and Red Bull.
Hamilton is fifth in the standings, 43 points behind runaway leader Charles Leclerc, and nine points adrift of new team-mate George Russell.
The 24-year-old has finished ahead of Hamilton at two of the opening three races and is second in the standings.
Hamilton and Russell appear to be bonding and went surfing together ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.
Asked if he was surprised how well the two Britons are getting on, Wolff replied: “Yes because they are both so competitive whilst still being able to work together.
“The effort they are putting into showing respect – from the young kid to the best ever and from Lewis in appreciating the future talent that is in George – is impressive.”
FIA admits ‘human error’ in Hamilton-Verstappen title controversy
Last month the FIA released its full report into the Abu Dhabi GP and confirmed “human error” was a factor in the 2021 title controversy, but said Masi acted in “good faith” and the results from the race and championship were “valid”.
In the report, the FIA acknowledges Masi contravened F1 regulations with his handling of the late Safety Car and his allowing of one final racing lap between Verstappen and Hamilton.
The FIA say the race director “called the safety car back into the pit lane without it having completed an additional lap as required by the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations (Article 48.12)”
The report also mentions the fact only five cars were able to unlap themselves under the safety car, and not all the unlapped cars as per the regulations.
“The process of identifying lapped cars has up until now been a manual one and human error led to the fact that not all cars were allowed to unlap themselves.”
They say they have developed software in response that will “automate the communication of the list of cars that must unlap themselves”.
But they also defend Masi, stating: “The report finds that the race director was acting in good faith and to the best of his knowledge given the difficult circumstances, particularly acknowledging the significant time constraints for decisions to be made and the immense pressure being applied by the teams.
“The results of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the FIA Formula One World Championship are valid, final and cannot now be changed.”