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FIA race director Michael Masi has been slammed even further for ‘dithering’ in the ‘farcical’ drama that cost Lewis Hamilton the F1 world championship. The Australian had initially instructed that lapped cars could not overtake the safety vehicle until it left the track at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, meaning there would not have been time for Max Verstappen to close in on his rival.
However, under pressure from Red Bull boss Christian Horner, Masi then changed his mind, allowing the cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves before ordering the safety car off the track.
Therefore, the Dutchman could get on the British driver’s tail before overtaking him in a one-lap shootout, benefiting from driving on fresh tyres, while Hamilton was left to defend on hard compound tyres over 40 laps old.
The FIA are now investigating what transpired in Abu Dhabi, where confusion and odd decision-making tarnished the final showdown – with the fallout still rumbling on to this day.
Former British F1 driver and current motorsport commentator Jolyon Palmer believes the chaos began when Masi changed his mind at such a critical time in the race.
“Where I think it went wrong for Michael Masi was the dithering,” Palmer told the Chequered Flag podcast.
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“Because actually the marshals did a really great job to clear [Nicholas] Latifi’s car quite quickly, he’s in the wall heavily, when you first saw it it looked like it might go to the end, and I think that is why Mercedes didn’t pit.
“But they cleared it really quickly, and I think there was time, if Michael Masi hadn’t have said the old ‘lapped cars won’t be allowed to overtake the Safety Car’, if he’d have just said lapped cars may now overtake, I think we would have had a normal restart.
He added: “But, he didn’t, then he did on a bit of argument from Red Bull, and that delayed everything and made this situation more farcical.
“When was the last time you saw a ‘lapped cars will not overtake, oh no hang on they will overtake, with a good amount of time, and only five of them, and at the same time as lapped cars may overtake, oh so the Safety Car is coming in now’. That is ridiculous.”
Mercedes, particularly team principal Toto Wolff, were left seething by Masi’s actions and argued that his selection of backmarkers who could un-lap themselves and the timing of the restart breached F1 regulations.
Since the withdrawal of their formal appeal, Wolff admitted he has ‘no interest’ in speaking with Masi after Hamilton lost out on a record-breaking eighth world title.
“I am not interested in having a conversation with Michael Masi,” the Austrian explained.
“The decisions that have been taken in the last four minutes of this race have dropped Lewis Hamilton from a deserved world championship. His driving, particularly in the last four races, was faultless.
“He had a commanding lead on Sunday in Abu Dhabi from the get-go. He won the start, and he never gave the lead away again. Robbing him in the last lap of the race is unacceptable.”
Similarly, Susie Wolff – Toto’s wife – released her own statement which read: “The way in which Lewis was robbed has left me in utter disbelief.
“The decision of one person within the governing body who applied a rule in a way which has never been done before in F1 single-handedly decided the F1 Driver World Championship. Rules are rules, they can’t be changed on a whim by one individual at the end of a race.”
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