A spokesman for Hamilton’s team confirmed: ‘No, we accepted and acknowledged the championship result in our statement on December 16. Since then, the FIA have conducted their own analysis in consultation with teams and drivers (including us) and reached their own conclusions, which they have presented today.’ So Max Verstappen remains 2021 world champion, and a worthy one over the season. Hamilton remains runner-up, and an understandably sore one.
Mercedes, led by their QC Paul Harris, believed their case was ‘overwhelming’, namely that Masi disregarded the rule book to call in the safety car early to Hamilton’s disadvantage. But they did not believe an FIA court sitting in judgment on its own race director and stewards could possibly provide them with the outcome they sought, and abandoned their litigation. They instead sought assurances from the FIA that things would change.
That may have sealed Masi’s fate, with Hamilton’s own future in the sport supposedly hinging on some form of meaningful redress. Mercedes deny that Masi’s head was a quid pro quo for their star man to race on into his 38th year. Regardless, the choreographing of Masi’s departure was artful. The 43-year-old Australian was still working until two days ago in the cautious hope of continuing in post when the new season starts in Bahrain on March 16, but was told of his dismissal on Wednesday.
Then, on Thursday, the new FIA president Muhammed ben Sulayem, the Emirati rally driver whose decision it was, issued an unusual video statement to deliver the news publicly. That announcement was timely because Friday brings Mercedes’ car launch at which Hamilton, team principal Toto Wolff and incoming driver George Russell will be present.
Masi’s departure is a sign of Ben Sulayem’s ruthless desire to sweep out the pits at the start of his reign and to imprint himself as undisputed boss: he resisted significant Masi supporters, including Bernie Ecclestone, whose wife Fabiana was elected on Ben Sulayem’s election ticket in December as one of his vice-presidents. Masi, currently staying in London,
is understood to be devastated at losing the job he took up on the sudden death of Charlie Whiting three years ago. He is weighing up whether to take up Ben Sulayem’s offer to continue in another capacity, possibly as race director in another series. Mercedes had pressed for Masi’s departure ever since he made his contentious decisions: namely, disadvantaging Hamilton by withdrawing the safety car, and allowing only the five lapped cars in between Verstappen and Hamilton to overtake it and so providing the Dutchman freedom to attack the seven-time champion.
Following a review into the safety car period, where both teams heavily lobbied Masi, direct communications to the race director have been removed from TV broadcast. Teams may now only ask questions in a non-intrusive manner. The process of cars unlapping themselves under the safety car will also be reviewed. A statement from Ben Sulayem read: ‘Drawing conclusions from the detailed analysis of the events of the last
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and from the 2021 season, I proposed an in-depth reform of the organisation of refereeing and race direction. It was unanimously supported by F1 CEO and teams principals. ‘Here is my plan for these structural changes: ‘Firstly, to assist the race director in the decision-making process, a Virtual Race Control Room will be created.
Alike the Video Assistance Referee (VAR) in football, it will be positioned in one of the FIA Offices as a backup outside the circuit. In real-time connection with the FIA F1 race director, it will help to apply the sporting regulations using the most modern technological tools. ‘Secondly, direct radio communications during the race, currently broadcast live by all TVs,
will be removed in order to protect the race director from any pressure and allow him to take decisions peacefully. It will still be possible to ask questions to the race director, according to a well-defined and non-intrusive process.