Wolff: Masi had ‘bromance’ with Red Bull sporting director

Toto Wolff

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has asserted that Red Bull’s sporting director had a “bromance” with now ousted Formula 1 race director Michael Masi.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton missed out on the 2021 world drivers’ championship title to Max Verstappen after he was passed by the Red Bull driver on the final lap of the season in a controversial conclusion to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Masi was dropped last month, a decision made in conjunction with reforms to how the race director role will be performed, and supported, going forward.

Among those procedural changes are that direct radio communications between competitors and the race director shall no longer be broadcast live on television, a practice only introduced last year.

Furthermore, such communications with the race director shall be made “According to a well-defined and non-intrusive process,” in the words of FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

Audio of Red Bull sporting director Jonathan Wheatley lobbying Masi was released by F1 in the week following the Abu Dhabi race, then caused a fresh storm of controversy when it resurfaced in February, just over a week before confirmation of the Australian’s demise as race director.

It led to a perception among some observers that Wheatley had successfully influenced Masi to manage the Safety Car period which preceded a one-lap dash to the chequered flag to the advantage of Verstappen.

Wolff has now described the Masi-Wheatley relationship as a “bromance”, in a new documentary produced by British Formula 1 broadcaster Sky Sports which chronicles the intense 2021 championship battle.

“Jonathan Wheatley has done his job,” he claims in Duel: Hamilton vs Verstappen.

“He’s turned Michael Masi the race director, not only in Abu Dhabi but before, and probably Max owes him a lot.”

Wolff asserts in the documentary that Masi made incorrect decisions, although he also opines that the Australian is a “victim”.

“His decisions were wrong and I’m sure that he regrets them,” said Mercedes’ team principal.

“The FIA should have seen much earlier that there was a problem. There was a problem with the structure. There was a problem of personalities.”

It was during the Safety Car period in question that, in the aforementioned audio, Wheatley is heard telling Masi, “Those lapped cars, you don’t need to let them go right the way around and catch up with the back of the pack.

“You only need to let them go, and then we’ve got a motor race on our hands.”

Race Control had initially advised that the lapped cars would not be cleared, only to then decide that those between the top two in the race, that top two being Hamilton and Verstappen, would be waved by.

Then, in a break from usual procedure, the race was restarted at the end of that lap, rather than the lap after those backmarkers were waved by.

After the race, Wolff told Masi that what happened was “not right,” to which Masi replied, “Toto, it’s called a motor race, okay?”

That choice of words played into a theory that Wheatley’s influence had been crucial in how the race was managed.

As for Wolff’s reference to “turn[ing]” Masi “before”, that is conceivably a comment on the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix which took place a week prior to the season finale at the Yas Marina Circuit.

In that race, an exchange between Masi and Wheatley was played during a red flag, when the former used words like “offer” in relation to how Verstappen would cede position to Hamilton after being found to have gained an advantage by leaving the track.

According to the man in the hotseat, the conversation was “very much a normal discussion that happens regularly on a number of occasions and has had all year and previously.”

Masi also stated at the time, “I wouldn’t call it a deal as, from a race director’s perspective, I have no authority to actually instruct the teams to do anything in that situation.

“I can give them an offer, the ability to do that. But the choice is theirs.”

Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas have taken over race director duties on an alternating basis, assisted by a permanent senior advisor in Herbie Blash, while Masi was set to be offered a new position within the FIA.

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