Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes Mercedes’ “bullying” approach led to Michael Masi being fired as the FIA’s Formula 1 race director.
Masi was removed from the position following the FIA’s analysis into the final race of 2021 in which he focused solely on the title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in the closing stages, removing the lapped drivers between the pair for a final lap shootout. Mercedes initially appealed the result of the race before dropping its protest, stating it was on the proviso that the FIA took action moving forward. However, Horner believes Masi should not have lost his job.
“Was it right to fire him based on pressure that was placed on him from a rival team? That for me was wrong,” Horner told BBC Sport. “That’s tantamount to bullying. It’s passively aggressive.”
Horner also believes that there has been unfair abuse sent Masi’s way as a result of the final race, suggesting Mercedes embarked on a “concerted campaign” to have him removed.
“Yes, Michael did make mistakes and it was frustrating, but you have to look at the role that he was in and the tools that he had at his disposal,” Horner said. “You can’t just place the blame on Michael. It’s unfair to do that.
“We were on the receiving end of many of Michael’s errors. 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 organization. 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.”
On Masi’s decision late in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Horner maintains the outcome would not have changed had the race director ensured all lapped cars could overtake.
“I don’t believe the rules were not followed correctly,” he said. “I think that they were applied perhaps differently to how they had been before by not allowing every single car to unlap.
“Looking at that incident, it wasn’t a big crash and the driver was not injured. The car was near an exit [in the barriers] 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? 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.”