Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff has described former FIA race director Michael Masi as a 'liability' in the wake of the Australian's removal from the job following last season's series finale in Abu Dhabi.
A lengthy investigation resulted in Masi being replaced as race director for the 2022 F1 season, with the probe sparked by his unconventional interpretation of safety car rules to set up a last lap showdown for the championship between Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull's Max Verstappen.
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Verstappen had the distinct advantage of fresh tyres that Hamilton didn't in the Mercedes, having been gifted the opportunity to come into the pits under the safety car while Hamilton stayed on track to keep first place.
Wolff and Mercedes were left fuming by Masi's move to clear only the lapped traffic between Hamilton and Verstappen, rather than allowing the full field to pass by as per usual practice.
Masi memorably justified this decision over the radio to Wolff in the moment by saying 'we are going motor racing'.
The FIA has appointed Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas to share responsibilities this season in order to reduce pressure on the race director, however in an interview with the Press Association during the Australian Grand Prix weekend, Wolff said issues with Masi ran deeper than just his decision making.
Masi said he had had lunch with Masi in the week prior to the Abu Dhabi finale, imploring Masi to 'take criticism on board and develop from there', suggesting he take a leaf out of Hamilton's book insofar as his ability to learn from errors.
Additionally, Masi said many drivers were unhappy with Masi's conduct during driver's briefings.
“You hear from the drivers and how the drivers’ briefings were conducted and some of the guys said it was almost disrespectful how he treated some of them,” he said.
“There is a promoter of one of the races in the Middle East who said he was so relieved he had gone because he got so much abuse from him.
“He was just immune to any feedback and even today he has not properly reflected that he did something wrong.
“He was a liability for the sport because everybody kept talking about Abu Dhabi and the race director, and the race director should not be somebody that people talk about, but someone who does the job and makes sure the race is run according to the regulations.”
Mercedes left confused by new FIA rules on jewellery
The new FIA duo of Wittich and Freitas have so far earned positive reviews from teams, one change they have made has still left Mercedes scratching their heads.
In their notes distributed to teams and drivers ahead of the Australian GP, the race directors specifically reminded drivers of a section of the sporting code prohibiting drivers from wearing jewelery during races.
Only Hamilton is known among current drivers for wearing a necklace regularly, with Wolff questioning why such an emphasis was placed on a relatively minor rule.
Neverltheless, he cheerfully said he would be happy to accept this as the biggest controversy of the season.
“How (Wittich) has run the first few races has been respectful, solid and he hasn’t put a single foot wrong,” Wolff said.
“But is that (jewellery ban) a battle he needs to have at this stage?
“However, if it turns out to be the biggest unfortunate misstep of a race director, I would take it a thousand times over.”
For his part, Hamilton seemed unperturbed by the reminders.
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He said that some things, like ear studs, couldn't be removed before races and that he assumed the rule would be enforced as normal.
“I don’t have any plans on removing it. I feel they are personal things. You should be able to be who you are," he said.
"I will continue to be...there’s stuff that I can’t move. I literally can’t even take these out (referring to his ear piercings).
"They’re welded in so I’d have to get them chopped off or something like that, so they’ll be staying.”
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