Michael Masi and Abu Dhabi, the untold story

Although there probably isn’t a moment in sports history that was talked about more than the final laps of Abu Dhabi 2021, I think there is something untold. It is not that I want to stir anything at this stage. The best would be, that there was closure for all, especially as on social media, the whole situation keeps being used by individuals to annoy the other drivers fanbase. I have no illusion it will stop soon.

At F1cover.nl, we have discussed it a lot too, so let’s first share our point of view. We are convinced, also due to other decisions in 2021, Masi was impartial towards whoever would win the race and therefore the championship. Actually, who would in his right mind want to influence the outcome of something so good and big as the 2021 F1 season? So, we see a clear distinction between the decision to not end the race under the safetycar and to change the result of the race. This probably needs a bit more explanation.  I genuinely think that Masi wanted to do the right thing, which for him was to end the GP racing, without thinking about the possible consequence of that decision. He may have approached it as if there was nothing depending on it and just do what he and the team principals had decided, to try not to end the race under the safetycar. So, it’s not like I think, Masi didn’t know what could happen, it was just not his first thought. And, it is only in hindsight, we all know the byproduct of his decision to not end the race under the safetycar. It was not that clear when Lewis and Max were side by side. At least, we still thought it was terribly exciting having to watch the last lap. It was not a foregone conclusion that Max would have a possibility to overtake Lewis, and as it had happened, the overtake, the MB engine proofed so strong that without DRS and on older tyres, Lewis almost got back.

But, as I said, there seems to be a part of this that isn’t told. Everybody heard all that was said between Masi, Horner (“we only need one racing lap”), Wheatley and Wolff (“Michael, this is so not right”). And also between Max (“typical decision, I’m not surprised”) and Lambiase and Lewis (“will he be right behind me…..on new tyres?”) and Bono (“he will be”).

But, what was the other communication Masi had? Who told him the track was clear? Whenever Masi was on camera, there were at least two other people in the room with him. What did they say? Who are they? Did they want to go racing too and is Masi protecting them from getting death threats too? Or did they suggest otherwise? And have to hold silence now? Would Masi not want backup on a decision to only let the lapped cars in between Lewis and Max pass the safetycar?

At F1cover.nl, we think this part of the story is still not clear. Should it stay that way? Should discussions, if there were any, stay behind closed doors, while other discussions were not? What do you think? Let it go, as it wouldn’t change things anyway?

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The untold story is not so much who was next to him.
He is the Race Director and the buck stops there.

His story will remain untold. And I get why he did not speak on the matter with Mercedes lawyering up from the get-go (brought legal counsel to the track!). After the appeal was dropped, there was the investigation that Mercedes wanted to have happen, so again he could not speak out. And then he was removed/put on gardening leave and likely involved in a conflict with his employer, so he couldn’t explain. Now he has an NDA and a golden handshake…again to keep quiet.

The untold story for me is in any case far more ‘hidden in plain sight’.
The press release and the report itself differ on significant points. The press release seems to hint at ‘human error’ in the unlapping procedure, without explictly stating that it was. Just saying the procedure was prone to that. But the report itself does not mention any mistake made. The words ‘human error’ do not appear once in the report and the reference to the system indicating which cars shuld unlap (point 33, oh sweet irony) is remarkably different.

The report furthermore acknowledges the confusion that can exist once the message ‘Lapped cars may NOT overtake’ is given. They are leaving it open to debate whether or not a Race Director can and should use his ‘overriding authority over the Safety Car’ to designate specific cars to unlap and/or call the SC directly (not end of next lap) when the course is clear. The procedure that should be followed when ‘Lapped cars may NOW overtake’ is given, is well described (and clarified so ‘any’ means ‘all’ now…duh), but it was not followed, since Masi never gave that message…

The untold story or unanswered question thus remains: can and should a Race Director be allowed to use extraordinary overriding authority to direct the drivers to race, when the track is clear and safe?

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