In a shocking development that could send shockwaves through Formula 1, Michael Masi, the former F1 race director whose decision-making in the 2021 season finale sparked intense controversy, is now rumored to be on the brink of a sensational return to the sport.
Masi, a 45-year-old Australian, found himself in the eye of a storm following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2021. His handling of a safety car situation in the race’s closing laps played a pivotal role in Max Verstappen’s dramatic title win over Lewis Hamilton, a decision that still stirs strong emotions within the F1 community, particularly among Mercedes and its team boss Toto Wolff. Reflecting on the episode, Wolff, still visibly irked by the events of that day, recently quipped when musing Mercedes’ return to Abu Dhabi, “With a proper race director, that should be fine,” alluding to the team’s ongoing battle with Ferrari in the constructors’ championship.
The fallout from Abu Dhabi led to Masi’s removal as race director, a change that occurred just before Mohammed Ben Sulayem ascended to the presidency of the FIA, Formula 1’s governing body. Despite Masi’s contentious exit, the FIA has refrained from harshly criticizing him, despite acknowledging “human error” in the 2021 title finale officialing. Ben Sulayem, in a new interview with the Guardian, expressed his reluctance to apologize for actions that predated his tenure. “I always apologise,” he said, “but I cannot apologise for something which was done before my time. Ok, I will do the apology, but I will bring Michael Masi again. Do you think that is right?”
Ben Sulayem’s comments highlight the personal toll the controversy took on Masi. Since his departure from Formula 1, Masi has been involved with the Supercars Commission and Karting Australia, but he has also sought mental health support to cope with the backlash, including death threats. Ben Sulayem himself acknowledges receiving similar threats, underscoring the intense passions that Formula 1 can ignite among its global fan base.
“The poor guy is a person who has been attacked and abused. Michael Masi went through hell. And if I see there is an opportunity that the FIA needs, and Michael Masi is the right person, I will bring him,” said the FIA chief.
The potential reappointment of Masi is not just a matter of reinstating a former official; it’s a decision that could redefine the governance of a sport still grappling with the fallout of one of its most contentious moments. Whether Masi’s return would bring closure or open old wounds remains to be seen, but it’s clear that his name will continue to be a significant one in the annals of Formula 1 history.
“I even had people threatening to kill me,” Ben Sulayem reveals. “Because I had the power to change it. But I said to them ‘Sorry, the World Cup of 1966, England against Germany, was that correct? Did they change it? No’. Did they give it to Germany? Nein.”