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Masi "bullied" out of role, claims Horner

NEWS STORY
08/03/2022

Without naming names, Red Bull boss, Christian Horner claims that Michael Masi was "bullied" out of his role as race director.

In the midst of the opening pre-season test, Christian Horner and Toto Wolff both agreed that it was time to move on from the events of Abu Dhabi.

"Maybe we share a difference of opinion over Abu Dhabi," said the Red Bull boss, "but that's done and dusted and all focus is very much now on 2022.

"What you did see last year was a fantastic competition from the first race to the last race," he added, "and I think that's been a key part of Formula 1's revival in popularity."

"It got fierce at times, and, and brutal," agreed Wolff, "but there is a lot at stake. It's a Formula 1 world championship and there is the fighting on track and the fighting off track for advantages.

"I agree with Christian," he continued, "we need to move on. There's been so much to talk about Abu Dhabi that it came to a point that it is really damaging for all of us stakeholders of Formula 1.

"We've closed the chapter and moved on, now it's about 2022. The game is on again, all points to zero, and new opportunity and new risks."

Yes just eight days later, the Mercedes boss was claiming that (FIA race director) Michael Masi had been "turned" by Red Bull over the course of the 2021 season, even suggesting the Australian enjoyed a "bromance" with the Austrian team's sporting director, Jonathan Wheatley.

By its very definition, "turned" suggests that Masi was deliberately persuaded to work in Red Bull's favour and against Mercedes, thereby implying that Abu Dhabi was a deliberate, almost premeditated act, and could therefore lead to legal action, if not by the German team by the Australian himself.

Now, like Wolff clearly spurred on by the media, Horner has revealed that in reality he is not prepared to "move on" either, having claimed that Masi was bullied out of his role.

"Michael did make mistakes and it was frustrating," he tells BBC Sport, "but you have to look at the role that he was in and the tools that he had at his disposal.

"You can't just place the blame on Michael. It's unfair to do that," he adds.

"We were on the receiving end of many of Michael's errors," claims Horner. "But he is in a high-pressure role in a high-pressure sport. But what it is unforgivable is the trolling, the abuse online, the death threats that he and his family had. That absolutely cannot be condoned in any way. That has nothing to do with the sport. It's just out-and-out bullying and I would not accept that in any way within our organisation.

"That's why I spoke up for Michael because I felt that he had not had any support. He had not had any backing. That he'd been hung out to dry and that there was this concerted campaign that was very passive-aggressively focused against him. I will always stand up for someone who is being bullied. Bullying is not acceptable.

"I don't believe the rules were not followed correctly," he says of that fateful decision in the final stages of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. "I think that they were applied perhaps differently to how they had been before by not allowing every single car to un-lap. But if (the stewards) felt the rules were not applied correctly, they wouldn't have declared the result."

Of course, over the course of the season both teams were seen (and heard) vigorously lobbying the race director, a practice that has now been outlawed.

"You've got to report the facts," says Horner of Abu Dhabi. "Who was the first to call Michael? It wasn't me. I'm only responding to the pressure being applied on him that I can hear in my ear from a rival team. It's my job as the principal of the team that I represent to defend it.

"I think it was probably less than the pressure that our rivals were pushing on to not have a safety car. Or to back-track a lap. Or not to have a virtual safety car, or for the virtual safety car to go into a full safety car.

"Looking at that incident, it wasn't a big crash and the driver was not injured," he says of the Nicholas Latifi incident that kick-started the controversy. "The car was near an exit and it always looked the likelihood that would be cleared up, and there would have been no problem releasing all seven cars rather than just five.

"If they'd have released all seven them, would you have had a problem with it?" he adds. "It would make no difference to the outcome of the championship if they'd got all seven out of the way. The only mistake you could argue he made was not releasing the back two cars, that he could've done easily, but it had no material effect on the race."

Of course, the big question, asked by Pitpass in the hours after the race, wasn't so much why Masi made the call that he did, but rather who was pulling his strings.

At a time F1 is all but looking down the back of the sofa for more cash, signing deals left right and centre, warning Netflix that it must up its game and provide more "value" even though the streaming giant is the driving force behind the sport's impressive rise in popularity, one has to seriously consider who gained the most from Masi controversial decision, and it certainly wasn't the Australian.

"It would have been the worst possible finish to what had been a magnificent season," admits Horner, in terms of the race ending behind the safety car. "When you look at the intensity of it, for it to end under a safety car after a lame accident would have been shocking.

"The production director of Netflix was not sitting next to Michael Masi when he was making that decision," he adds. "F1 is still a sport, but sport is an entertainment. And one could argue that there have been more people talking about Formula 1 in the past two and a half months when, traditionally, it would have been in hibernation.

"The viewing figures have never been bigger," he continues. "Every promoter is sold out. Silverstone are trying to accommodate more seats and grandstand places. There's never been more competition to host a Grand Prix. So, um, is it all that bad?"

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by jcr, 11/03/2022 11:06

"Spindoctor.
Its only because We are restricted by the terms & conditions of the Pitpass Website !!"

Rating: Neutral (0)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

2. Posted by Spindoctor, 11/03/2022 8:16

"@jcr calling Hamilton a silly name doesn't make your point any more convincing...."

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3. Posted by jcr, 10/03/2022 11:57

"Interesting to now watch Sky interview with Massa & Glock.
If We take the Sir Hammi camps opinion that Max was handed the 21 championship and so it Dos,nt count ??
Surely Hammi was handed the 08 championship,
So maybe my previous post about Sir Hammi, 6 times champion was not too far from the mark."

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4. Posted by jcr, 09/03/2022 14:58

"Editor,
Apologies, I stand corrected, typo error
But my point remains the same."

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5. Posted by Editor, 09/03/2022 12:45

"@ jcr

Only 6 titles?

Better still, in its description of its own Drive to Survive drivel, Sky describes the Abu Dhabi debacle as sending "shockwaves around the world"... so right up there with COVID and Ukraine in Sky's opinion."

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6. Posted by jcr, 09/03/2022 12:12

"givememychoice
Completely agree on post race bullying by Merc (Toto + Sir Hammi). Resulting in Massi losing his position.
But this is quietly overlooked by FIA, As is Sir Hammis failure to attend the Ball. And (IMO) Totos carry on in the latest SKYs attemp to keep the S--T flowing !!
A great example of Sky F1 bias, 3 Months later, Their Programme intro, still leads L.Hammi, 6 Times champion of the world.
No mention of Verstappen ??"

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7. Posted by Spindoctor, 09/03/2022 11:58

"Yaaaaawnnnn.
Put this behind you people. As per my previous comment on Wolff's contribution. History has already recorded Max as Champion these childish attempts to maintain spurious "interest" demean all involved."

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8. Posted by givememychoice, 09/03/2022 11:34

"@Great_white_shark. I dont buy the thing of Masi doing it to "enhance" the show. If you read my post, you would understand that, certainly from my viewpoint of events/timings, the right result in terms of when racing resumed was achieved. I fully admit how that was attained was not standard. To argue it was against the rules ignores Article 15.3 that was inserted back in 94 to allow the freedom of race director to make decisions in a much less rigid time. (they simply didnt have standard procedures for this kind of thing back then). So, as 15.3 overrides the other rules, it is wrong to say rules were not applied. Now, I personally think, if Masi realised that due to badgering by both principles, the result was going to be influenced due to his impaired ability to make the all cars may pass call, then using article 15.3 to mitigate it to get back to how it should be would be a fair and appropriate decision.

And to the topic in point, I think it is pretty clear that there was bullying from both sides during the race, but post race there was further bullying from Mercedes. There was definitely an implied pressure from Merc over Masi's position, which i think is entirely unacceptable. Im Ok with horner calling it out. Like i would be with Wolff calling horner out if the roles were all reversed. Im glad the in race pressure will be much reduced this season.

Masi is a human. Yes, he was in a very high position, but he is still human. Presumably a very high paid job that many of us would love to have, but he may have commitments based on his income. Did the FIA go through all the correct (legally AND morally) about him being relieved of his role?"

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9. Posted by Great_white_shark, 08/03/2022 20:52

"@givememychoice. Hamilton has been unlucky in the past like when he suffered from unreliability and lost to Rosberg but that is indeed racing and Nico won fair and square. However, what happened in Abu Dhabi was not racing. The racing director's role is to apply the rules not "enhance" the show for Liberty Media/Netflix.

Masi knows the rules as he acknowledged them in the past when we had a similar situation with safety cars and we couldn't go racing as he put it. It isn't a matter of opinion despite what Horner says. "

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10. Posted by givememychoice, 08/03/2022 16:36

"@ClarkwasGod, i suspect, had Masi followed the rules properly (and not been bombarded from both sides), he would have realised the track was all clear with all marshalls off track (as evidenced by the main tv feed) 480 seconds after the accident. (It may have been clear earlier). The second to last lap started another 10 seconds later. There was a clear track. A clear window existed to issue the all cars may pass message on the 3rd last lap and have the safety car pull in on the 2nd last lap (as it did). Hamilton was desperately unlucky, like Massa was when Hamilton passed Glock, but to blame the officials is just wrong - they made wrong decisions, but the correct ones would have us back at the same situation. "

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11. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 08/03/2022 12:52

"I wonder how he, and others within Red Bull would have reacted had Masi followed the rules to the letter, and Hamilton had won. The screams of hysteria and vitriol would have been immense, and still ongoing.

All parties now need to put last year behind them and look forward."

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12. Posted by ffracer, 08/03/2022 12:10

"Irony: Christian Horner showing compassion for someone being bullied."

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13. Posted by Wokingchap, 08/03/2022 11:45

"I don't like to see anyone bullied either but so glad he's gone........well almost gone."

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14. Posted by KKK, 08/03/2022 11:15

"Ive only one thing to say to Mr Horner : "put a sock in it, we are all bored with your theories".
"

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15. Posted by Superbird70, 08/03/2022 11:11

"The incident, the race, the season is over. Can everyone just give it a rest? Children all of them."

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