Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has accused his Mercedes rivals of “bullying” behaviour leading to the departure of FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi.
The future of Michael Masi has been a major topic of discussion throughout the off-season, following the Australian’s controversial decision in the closing laps of the Abu Dhabi 2021 Grand Prix. Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton felt the drivers’ title had been unfairly taken away, while Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff pushed for changes to be made by the FIA. The Austrian even hinted that his star driver would not return to Formula One in 2022, while Hamilton remained silent for over two months.
In the end, the FIA decided to change the structure of race management from the 2022 season onwards and opted to remove Michael Masi, who still has a role within the FIA but is no longer involved in Formula One. When asked about the whole affair, the Red Bull team boss said Mercedes had a lot to do with the FIA’s decision to remove Masi.
“Was it right to fire him based on pressure that was placed on him from a rival team? That for me was wrong, that’s tantamount to bullying. It’s passively aggressive.”
“Yes, Michael did make mistakes and it was frustrating, but you have to look at the role that he was in and the tools that he had at his disposal.
“You can’t just place the blame on Michael. It’s unfair to do that.” Horner told the BBC.
The British team boss went on to explain that, in his opinion, the former F1 race director was treated unacceptably, both by fans threatening him on social media and by the FIA, which did not sufficiently support its race director.
“We were on the receiving end of many of Michael’s errors,” Horner said. “But he is in a high-pressure role in a high-pressure sport.
“But what it is unforgivable is the trolling, the abuse online, the death threats that he and his family had. That absolutely cannot be condoned in any way.
“That has nothing to do with the sport. It’s just out-and-out bullying and I would not accept that in any way within our organisation.
“That’s why I spoke up for Michael because I felt that he had not had any support. He had not had any backing. That he’d been hung out to dry and that there was this concerted campaign that was very passive-aggressively focused against him.
“I will always stand up for someone who is being bullied. Bullying is not acceptable.”
Many people feel that Michael Masi did not apply the rules correctly at the final round of the 2021 season in Abu Dhabi, including allowing only five cars to split behind the safety car. Christian Horner believes that the rules were applied differently on that day.
“I don’t believe the rules were not followed correctly. I think that they were applied perhaps differently to how they had been before by not allowing every single car to unlap.”
He added that “if [the stewards] felt the rules were not applied correctly, they wouldn’t have declared the result” Horner said.
Christian Horner also refuted the idea that it was Red Bull who put the greatest pressure on Michael Masi over the radio when the race director had to decide whether to bring out a safety car after the crash of Williams driver Nicholas Latifi.
The Milton Keynes team boss denied putting the race director under pressure at that particular moment in the Grand Prix, with Horner believing that it was his Mercedes counterpart Toto Wolff who put the most pressure on Masi.
“You’ve got to report the facts,” Horner said. “Who was the first to call Michael? It wasn’t me. I’m only responding to the pressure being applied on him that I can hear in my ear from a rival team. It’s my job as the principal of the team that I represent to defend it.
“I think it was probably less than the pressure that our rivals were pushing on to not have a safety car. Or to back-track a lap. Or not to have a virtual safety car, or for the virtual safety car to go into a full safety car.”