Mercedes boss says Masi’s Safety Car call was “ingenious and brilliant” – The ear splitting noise of protest from Mercedes AMG F1 to Michael Masi’s interpretation of the sporting rules to prevent the 2021 season deciding race petering out under the safety car is now mostly abated.
Quite are the sycophantic British Press screaming “Lewis was robbed” and diminished are the despicable social media torrents of abuse towards Masi, his family and the FIA.
In all this certainly, damage has been done to Mercedes F1 brand, particularly when Wolff realized the FIA would reject any further appeal and went vocal with the BBC.
What was a great shame was we saw Lewis Hamilton initially being most gracious at the conclusion of the Abu Dhabi race, but then he predictably then followed it up with his predictable ‘sore loser’ behavior. The ex-world champion refused to attend the compulsory end of season FIA gala and collect his trophy.
In response, the incoming FIA president has stated ‘rules are rules’ in respect to Hamilton being punished for his failure to comply with the regulation. This could well see the ex British champion receive a third reprimand of the season.
We’ll all still be talking about Wolff and Hamilton’s reaction come the first race of 2022 in Bahrain, when Lewis takes a probable 10 place grid penalty.
For now however, more sanguine voices from F1 land can be heard and different perspectives on the season finale and the result are coming to the fore.
Countering the insistence by Wolff that Lewis Hamilton is F1’s GOAT (Greatest of all Time); David Coulthard refuses to agree.
Whilst Wolff may be an F1 ‘Johnny Come Lately’ and not know how to behave, it is worth remembering Mercedes F1 are the most historic of F1 marques, debuting in 1954.
Juan Manuel Fangio won their first race at the French GP that year followed by 3 more to take the 1954 Drivers’ title. The Argentinian great won the WDC again in 1955, but Mercedes withdraw from motorsport following a terrible accident killing at Le Mans that year. Their driver and 84 spectators were killed as the car flew into the crowd.
The man who persuaded Daimler to allow Mercedes to re-enter F1 almost 40 years after their exit is Norbert Haug. In 1993 Haug negotiated a partnership with Peter Sauber to associate with the team and then the following season Ilmor actually built the first modern Mercedes Benz F1 engine.
Following a horrific accident that appeared to be the fault of the Peugeot engine, Team McLaren’s Ron Dennis and Haug agreed Mercedes would be the engine partner for the British F1 team. This relationship continued until 2010 when Mercedes bought the Brackley operation as their own works team.
To suggest Norbert Haug could teach Toto Wolff a thing or two about motorsport would be the understatement of the decade. He was one of F1’s most influential figures for over 20 years and dominated Mercedes motorsport for even longer. Hence his view on the antics of the current team members is interesting indeed.
Whilst having sympathy for Wolff and admitting Haug himself would have been ‘freaked out’ by the last lap, the German notes, “The motorsport fan doesn’t want to see this behavior. You have to be big enough to shut up”, admitting this was also not easy for him.
Haug muses on various race events which Michael Masi managed throughout the season, suggesting he has a pragmatic approach to solving sporting conflicts.
Haug applauds Masi’s decision not to just allow Verstappen to be penalized for using the run off area in Saudi Arabia. His offer to Red Bull the choice of conceding the place or being referred to the stewards, was refreshing.
This new approach has been criticised by the likes of Sky’s expert David Croft and called ‘negotiation’ and ‘horse trading’.
In actuality, the offer diffused the later debate about whether an imposed stewards decision on Verstappen was fair or not. To this end Haug states, “that wasn’t trading, it was an extremely clever move”.
As to Masi’s handling of a number of decisions during the Abu Dhabi finale Haug applauds them all including lap 1. Here Hamilton ran wide, but arguably Max didn’t leave space, so under the Lap 1 ideal that track limit breaches are more forgivable as cars sort themselves out, Masi refused to ask Lewis to hand back the place.
This for some contradicted of his decision against Verstappen in Saudi Arabia. Yet the context was different.
The biggie of course was the scenario all none partisan F1 fans dreaded, the thrilling season finishing under the safety car.
Of course, there wasn’t time to allow the usual full un-lapping of the pack, so Masi called it that only those interfering with the race leaders should be removed.
“I think Masi was ingenious and brilliant in finding that solution”, smiles Haug when speaking to Hello TV.
Of course despite the furore of a new interpretation of a sporting regulation, in effect Michael Masi was enacting the oft repeated words of Niki Lauda, which echo now across time.
“Let them race”, the grizzled Austrian would growl.
Maybe the always friendly though ferociously competitive Norbert Haug has reminded us what Mercedes motorsport is really all about. It’s just that some of its current incumbents may have less of a perspective across time.
In the words of Bono, maybe Toto and Lewis are, ‘Stuck in a moment, and can’t get out of it’.