Five high-profile mistakes Michael Masi made as F1 race director

With the news that Michael Masi has officially left the FIA, we reflect on his tenure as F1 race director and the mistakes prior to his most costly one in Abu Dhabi.
Michael Masi
Michael Masi

Replacing the late Charlie Whiting was always going to be a difficult task for Michael Masi in 2019.

Acting as an understudy to Whiting, Masi was deputy race director in Formula 2 and Formula 3 for 2017 before gaining additional responsibilities for the following year.

Just three days ahead of the 2019 season-opener in Melbourne, the shocking news that Whiting had died surfaced.

Masi was the obvious replacement, holding the role from 2019 to the end of 2021.

Respected by the F1 drivers, unfortunately for Masi, his handling of the title finale between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen was one error too far.

Here are five high-profile errors during his three years in charge:

2020 Turkish GP

Conditions were tricky on F1’s return to Istanbul Park in 2020, catching out Williams’ Nicholas Latifi at the end of Q1.

A recovery crane was sent out onto the circuit to recover his car.

Five high-profile mistakes Michael Masi made as F1 race director

Despite the crane still being on the run-off area, Q2 resumed as normal with the remaining 15 cars heading out on track.

There were still yellow flags waving where the crane was situated at Turn 8, when the session should have been delayed for Latifi’s car to be completely recovered, particularly how slippery and challenging conditions were that weekend.

“We released the cars from the pitlane as the recovery vehicle was moving to the escape road," Masi explained in 2020. "Following information given to Race Control by the Clerk of the Course that the vehicle would be clear of the track before the cars on their out laps reached Turn 8 where the recovery was taking place.

“As soon as it became apparent that the recovery vehicle had been delayed in moving completely into the barrier opening, we extended the area of double-waved yellow flags from Turn 8 to the entry point of Turn 7 to further slow down the cars on their out laps.

“Clearly this is not a scenario we want to see, and with the benefit of hindsight we would have done it differently and held the cars until the recovery was completed.

“We will review our procedures to minimise the likelihood of similar incidents in future.”

2020 Emilia Romagna GP

During the latter stages of the 2020 Emilia Romagna GP, lapped cars were allowed to overtake the Safety Car to re-join the leading lap.

However, marshals were still out on the circuit as they were clearing the track following George Russell’s shunt at Acque Minerale.

Lance Stroll - who was driving for Racing Point at the time - encountered a group of marshals on the circuit, despite not being warned.

“I wasn’t warned and I wasn’t expecting to see anyone on the track once I got the message that I was allowed to overtake the Safety Car and catch the back of the train,” Stroll said. 

“Thankfully there was nothing bad that happened there but for sure we’ll have to address it and make sure that something like that doesn’t happen again.”

2021 Azerbaijan GP

Verstappen’s tyre blowout on Lap 46 of the Azerbaijan GP was a dramatic one, costing the Dutchman an easy victory in Baku - a serious dent to his title hopes.

It took approximately 90 seconds for the Safety Car to be deployed despite Verstappen’s hefty shunt.

Five high-profile mistakes Michael Masi made as F1 race director

“That’s a joke, that’s a joke,” Leclerc said over team radio when driving past Verstappen’s crashed car in Baku 2021.

“Put the fu--ing safety car out straight away, why are they waiting?” 

The race was ultimately red-flagged with two laps to go.

2021 Belgian GP

The treacherous conditions at the 2021 Belgian GP made it another difficult weekend for Masi.

Despite conditions being visibly worse, Q3 resumed.

Lando Norris was the first to drive in the heavy downpour but soon aquaplaned out of Raidillon.

Norris, who had been favourite to take pole position after the first two segments, crashed heavily, leading to a red flag period.

After qualifying, Masi admitted it was a mistake to start Q3.

"I spoke to a number of drivers [on Saturday] night to get their feedback and they gave me some very constructive feedback," Masi said.

"So yes, hindsight's an amazing thing. And based on what they told me, having experienced the conditions at this circuit and all of the rest of it, we probably wouldn't have started.

"But that's also a benefit of hindsight with them having driven on this circuit in those conditions, because each circuit is a bit different to the way the water comes off, with the way the tyres react, etcetera. You have to treat everything on its merits."

2021 Abu Dhabi GP

The mistake that ultimately cost him his job came at the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP - the title decider between Hamilton and Verstappen.

The point of controversy came under the Safety Car, caused by Latifi.

At this point, Hamilton had a number of lapped cars between himself and Verstappen (who switched to soft tyres and was significantly quicker as a result).

Lewis Hamilton (GBR), Mercedes AMG F1 and Max Verstappen (NLD), Red Bull
Lewis Hamilton (GBR), Mercedes AMG F1 and Max Verstappen (NLD), Red Bull

With two laps to go, Masi only allowed a handful of lapped cars to overtake the Safety Car to ensure the race could resume on the final lap and thus, the title could be decided on track.

This contravened the regulations as Masi should have let all of the lapped cars overtake or none.

Had he followed the rules correctly, it’s likely Hamilton would have won the championship hence the sizeable fallout afterwards and Masi ultimately losing his job.

Race winner and World Champion Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium alongside second placed Lewis
Race winner and World Champion Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing…

Read More