World champion Max Verstappen has jumped to the defense of ousted Formula One race director Michael Masi, saying the Australian official has been “thrown under the bus”.
In a bullish show of support for Masi, the Dutch driver said it was “very unfair” that he’d lost his job and added the decision of the governing body, the FIA, to kick him out was “incredible”.
The 24-year-old added that he’d even texted Masi after his sacking to offer his sympathy and support.
Verstappen won the world title on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the last race of the season in December, after Masi failed to follow the rules correctly and made decisions that enabled the Dutchman to pass his title rival Lewis Hamilton.
Following an inquiry into his much-debated rulings, the FIA announced a race control restructure with Masi thrown out of the job he’d done for three years and replaced by two race directors who’ll rotate roles through the season.
Speaking about the issue for the first time publicly, Verstappen, talking at pre-season testing in Barcelona, said: “For me, it’s very unfair what happened to Michael because he’s really been thrown under the bus.”
The champion also questioned why team personnel – like his own Red Bull boss Christian Horner and Mercedes’ Toto Wolff – had been allowed by F1 chiefs to communicate with Masi during high pressure moments during the race.
“The people who did sack him allowed that in the first place. For me, that is unacceptable,” Verstappen said.
“Now they sacked him and I find that really incredible. I feel really sorry for Michael because I feel he was a really capable and good race director.”
Other drivers, including former world champions Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, have also been voicing their support for the Australian in Barcelona.
Masi, though, will be no longer involved at the business end of race control and is expected to now only have a role involved in safety issues within the FIA.
“I have nothing against the new race directors because I think they’re also very capable and good race directors, but for Michael I felt really sad and I sent him a text as well,” Verstappen said.
“Not the right decision.”
Masi had been race director since the death of the popular and much-admired Charlie Whiting in 2019 but Verstappen felt he had needed more help in trying to emulate his English predecessor.
“After Charlie died, it’s very tough to take over from someone like him. He had so much experience from the previous years and also Charlie had help around him. Maybe Michael just needed a little bit more?” he said.
“But everyone needs experience. I came into this sport as a complete rookie, and now I’m so much further than when I was back then and I think it would have been the same for Michael.
“To immediately sack him for me is not the right decision but I wish him all the best with whatever comes next and I hope it is better than being F1 race director.”