Former Formula One race director Michael Masi said on Sunday that he received a barrage of “vile” insults and death threats in the wake of his shocking decision, which cost Lewis Hamilton an eighth world championship.
Michael Masi said on Sunday that he received a barrage of “vile” insults and death threats in the wake of his shocking decision, which cost Lewis Hamilton an eighth world championship.
The 44-year-old left the sport’s governing body, FIA, last month to travel back to Australia after being fired from the high-profile position due to his administration of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year.
After the series of events that resulted in Red Bull’s Max Verstappen passing Hamilton to deny the Mercedes star of another championship victory, he told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph that he feared for his life.
“There were some dark days,” Masi said in his first substantive interview since. “And absolutely, I felt like I was the most hated man in the world.”
“I got death threats. People saying, they were going to come after me and my family.”
“I still remember walking down the street in London a day or two later. I thought I was OK until I started looking over my shoulder,” he added.
“I was looking at people wondering if they were going to get me.”
Masi controversially allowed the backmarkers between race leaders Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves after bringing in the safety car for the final lap in Abu Dhabi.
As a result, the Dutchman and the Briton engaged in a one-lap shootout. With brand-new tires on his Red Bull vehicle, the Dutchman had a significant edge, which he used to eliminate Hamilton and win the championship.
Masi was under pressure from Mercedes and Red Bull to make moves that would have benefited their driver, and the former was furious because they thought he had heeded their advice. Mercedes threatened to take legal action because they feared Hamilton would quit racing due to his disillusionment.
According to the publication, Masi was unable to discuss the choice because of confidentiality agreements with the FIA, but he did claim that the months that followed were excruciating.
“I was confronted with hundreds of messages,” he said. “They were shocking. Racist, abusive, vile, they called me every name under the sun. And there were death threats.”
“And they kept on coming. Not just on my Facebook but also on my LinkedIn, which is supposed to be a professional platform for business. It was the same type of abuse.”
“I didn’t go and talk to a professional. With the benefit of hindsight, I probably should have,” he said, adding that the FIA was aware of the abuse, “but I think I downplayed it all to everyone including them”.
Masi made the decision to quit the FIA a fortnight ago after serving for three years as the safety delegate and race director for the Formula 1 after being appointed following Charlie Whiting’s unexpected death in 2019.
“It took me a while to process it all,” he said of the Abu Dhabi fallout. “But at the end of the day I thought it was best for me to come back home and be close to my support network.”
Since the race in Abu Dhabi, the FIA has announced initiatives to relieve the race director’s workload and changed the way it interacts with them.