Helmut Marko makes Michael Masi plea amid calls for Max Verstappen to be stripped of title

Max Verstappen 'recharged' ahead of new F1 season

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Red Bull chief Helmut Marko has urged F1 fans not to use FIA race director Michael Masi as a scapegoat in last season’s dramatic title decider. The FIA launched an internal investigation into the season finale that saw Lewis Hamilton beaten by Max Verstappen – and the results could see Masi end up losing his job or having his role changed.

Hamilton built up a sizable lead at Yas Marina in December and looked to be closing in on a record-breaking eighth world title. 

A late safety car bunched up the pack, however, and Masi made the contentious decision to order lapped drivers between Hamilton and Verstappen to pass through with one lap remaining. 

The Mercedes garage took issue with the call, which did not include the lapped drivers behind the Dutchman, and seemed to be a decision borne out of Masi’s desire to ‘go motor racing’. 

Having fitted fresher tyres behind the safety car, Verstappen took his opportunity to pass the Brit on the final lap and clinch his first Championship. 

Rich Energy CEO William Storey claims that, having met with F1 engineers, the overwhelming feeling is that Verstappen should be stripped of the title and Masi should be fired. 

The FIA’s findings are set to be presented today, 14 February, which could see the Australian axed. 

But Marko has urged against such action and jumped to Masi’s defence when asked whether he was to blame for December’s controversial shootout. 

“No, of course not,” he told Kleine Zeitung, “He wanted to find a sporting solution.

“As is often the case with Safety Car periods, one driver benefits more than the other.

“In the American IMSA, three laps can be added so the races are suddenly longer. In Formula 1, with all the tight fuel calculations, this is not an option.

“The primary purpose of the investigation is to clarify that Masi was simply overwhelmed in that situation, and that the team bosses cannot continue to interfere with race management over the radio.

“Everything should be clearer. I think they will try to relieve the race management a little more.”

Precisely which course of action the FIA choose to take remains to be seen, although executive director of single-seaters Peter Bayer recently admitted that Masi’s time could be up. 

If true, it would not be the only sweeping change for the upcoming season as teams gradually reveal their new cars, which have been shaped by fresh regulations. 

Given that development could be the key to success in 2022, Verstappen expressed his eagerness to get the car out on track during Red Bull’s unveiling last week. 

Hamilton, meanwhile, will have a brand new partner with George Russell gearing up for his first fully-fledged race for the Silver Arrows since replacing Valtteri Bottas. 

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