Masi was a “liability” for F1 and “disrespectful” towards drivers – Wolff

2022 F1 season

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has revealed he urged former FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi to take criticism of his approach on board ahead of last year’s controversial title-decider in Abu Dhabi.

Masi was replaced as race director due to his mishandling of the finale. An FIA inquiry found he failed to adhere to its regulations in arranging a final-lap restart of the race, following which Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton to win the world championship.

Wolff revealed he spoke to Masi before the event about the feedback he’d been given over several controversial decisions earlier in the year.

“I had lunch with him on the Wednesday before the race,” Wolff told the Press Association, “and I said to him that ‘I really want to tell you, without patronising you, that you need to take criticism on board and develop from there. Lewis does it every day, but you are a guy who always seems to know better’.

“It wasn’t about influencing him but really giving my honest feedback that he shouldn’t block outside opinion as simply being wrong.”

Masi, who has not spoken publicly since the controversial conclusion to last season almost four months ago, had been criticised for his handling of several flashpoints in the rivalry between Hamilton and Verstappen at preceding races in Saudi Arabia and Brazil. Wolff said drivers were not impressed by his reaction to their feedback.

“You hear from the drivers and how the drivers’ briefings were conducted [by Masi] and some of the guys said it was almost disrespectful how he treated some of them.

“There is a promoter of one of the races in the Middle East who said he was so relieved he had gone because he got so much abuse from him.”

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The FIA’s inquiry found two errors were made in Masi’s management of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The Safety Car was brought in a lap too early and only some of the lapped cars – those which lay between Hamilton and Verstappen – were allowed to rejoin the lead lap.

(L to R), Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2022
Analysis: The omission in the FIA’s Abu Dhabi report which may store up trouble for the future
However, Wolff said Masi hasn’t accepted he was at fault. “He was just immune to any feedback and even today he has not properly reflected that he did something wrong.

“He was a liability for the sport because everybody kept talking about Abu Dhabi and the race director, and the race director should not be somebody that people talk about, but someone who does the job and makes sure the race is run according to the regulations.”

Wolff said Niels Wittich, one of Masi’s two replacements in the role, “hasn’t put a single foot wrong” since taking over. However he questioned the need for his clampdown on drivers wearing jewellery while on-track.

Hamilton said yesterday he cannot comply with the restriction because some of his piercings are fixed in place.

“Is that a battle he needs to have at this stage?” said Wolff. “However, if it turns out to be the biggest unfortunate misstep of a race director, I would take it a thousand times over.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 129 comments on “Masi was a “liability” for F1 and “disrespectful” towards drivers – Wolff”

    1. Is he gonna cry about this whole year?

      1. He’s just bringing it up to upset some sensitive fans, reminding them about the * :)

        But it’s true Masi himself has not said a word about it. For me that speaks volumes about who persuaded him to change his decision. Hint: it’s someone who could make him keep quiet now.

      2. John Jackson
        11th April 2022, 13:53

        Pointing out the truth, that the officiating and changing the rules determined the race winner and awarded a championship, is not crying.
        Only those emotional invested in Max’s championship keep diminishing this.

        1. That is actually the half-truth. He didn’t change rules per se since some of the rules are written unfairly anyway (The race director’s authority to overwrite safety cars is an unfair rule but it’s still a written rule).

          However, that happened in many other cases this season and it was not the only confounding variable in the championship result.

          Masi was not only a scapegoat for FIA’s officiating but also for Mercedes’s problems and Hamilton’s extremely poor performance in Baku, Monaco, and Turkey to name a few races (he had more but luck helped him out). The headline “We got robbed!” exonerates them quite nicely right?

      3. First of all who is this idiot who sees the right and power to talk on behalf of other F1 teams. Masi was this, Masi was that.
        Other teams and other ppl may rightly think differently more wisely and comprehensively about what we have witnessed past season in this sport, from this biased clown.
        Before the Rbr and Mercedes were involved, F1 was a much more refined place. The relatively wealthy but bulky Ferrari and the less budget but more technological and systematic British garage teams were a way better combination for this sport imo.

        1. F1 was a much more refined place

          Lot’s of ignorant subjectivity there.

          1. Since this is a subject about F1, I don’t understand why a redneck like you circulate around.

      4. And kick dead horses, whilst totally incriminating himself. Sounds like a mobster boasting, except Wolff is not being sarcastic. By the way I hated Masi first, from day one. I want a medal.

        1. How exactly is Toto “incriminating himself”? Of doing what?

      5. There are pejoratives I’d like to use to describe Toto on this matter, but I’m afraid I’d be banned for using them. Suffice it to say, that Masi didn’t become a liability, Mercedes and Toto did try incredibly hard to make it appear as such. It became a vendetta to see the man punished.

        Toto’s transformation has been shocking to me. From being the stoic, brilliant operator, to an emotional, petty, and vindictive pillock. I guess he got used to winning easy and as soon as pressure was applied he started to crack

        1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
          12th April 2022, 15:21

          @ajpennypacker sorry but it’s absurd to blame Toto here. You’d have equal luck convincing us that the Ukrainian people are the aggressors and Putin the victim here.

      6. Hamilton 8 x FIA Rules F1 Champion. Braketester 1 Lap Masi Rules Champion.

    2. Interesting revelation on what he’d said to Masi pre-event, also the note on allegedly being disrespectful towards drivers in briefings, but I wonder how?
      How could a Middle Eastern race promoter/organizer have gotten abuse from him, though?

      1. The event organiser will normally have a few meetings with the RD leading up to and during the event.

        The event organiser is responsible for providing the facilities and the personnel needed for an F1 weekend, including marshals. They normally delegate this to the venue owner but ultimately it is their responsibility.

      2. @jerejj Yes, now I can’t help but hear Toto Wolff’s pre-Abu Dhabi ‘pep talk’ with Masi thrown back at him in the infamous ‘it’s called a motor race Toto!!’

      3. @jerejj I think it’s very interesting he had a chat with Masi on Wednesday and on Thursday Masi put out the race event notes including the reminder the stewards have the power to confiscate championship points.

        1. Indeed! Sounds he was influenced by Toto thise kind of dinners should be forbidden during the season.

        2. Very good point there @keithcollantine. It points to more and more issues with actually listening quite well to some advice given on the part of Masi!

          Overall, it is hard to judge from the outside, but we did get many an instance where we saw far to many issues arising with the race direction (crash at restart for example) where his reaction was quite dismissive without even haven taken time to look at the merits of the issues raised, so I can see there might be a point to what Wolff brings up.

          1. @bascb I’m with you. In many cases during the year he just sounded like a know-it-all instead of listening to drivers and their questioning. A lot of the times he just went “this was agreed with the teams”. And never said “we’ll certainly look at it again to see where we can improve”.

            I remember a loooot of articles with explanations from Masi and general outrage in the comments because he was dismissive, as you say.

        3. @keithcollantine what’s more, is that this puts Toto’s accusations against Wheatley having a “bromance” and therefor implying influence with Masi into new light. How can he even make such comments that while having casual lunches with the guy himself.

          1. @sjaakfoo I’m not sure having lunch is synonymous with a bromance. I remarked last year that the tone between the teams and Masi was very different and Red Bull did seem to get a warmer, more amenable tone. However, reading Keith’s report on the Wolff-Masi meeting, I wouldn’t take kindly to the comments Wolff made either, whether they were valid or not. It’s not his position to be giving personal advice on how Masi does his job, specifically something like ‘you are a guy who always seems to know better’. I totally agree with Wolff, Masi was always far toio quick to ignore criticism (or critical advice) but it seems both unprofessional and counterproductive for him to make his criticism in such a way. If you make it personal, you could end up generating a personal, over-emotional response leading to mistakes, which was how it seemed to manifest in the final laps of the season under extreme pressure.

      4. I recall seeing a piece on Sky about Masi’s roll in ensuring Jeddah was ready on time, I imagine that might be the nameless Middle East promoter. Though if he won’t name the drivers or the promoter I reckon he’s making it up. I know a guy who knows Toto and he says Toto always makes things up.

    3. Masi shouldn’t have been having lunch with Toto, that was his biggest mistake.

    4. Toto is once again proving why I find him so completely insufferable. There was absolutely no reason for him to go to lunch with Masi to tell him all the things he considered wrong about him, he wasn’t his boss, he wasn’t his anything, giving someone unsolicited “advice” in an effort to influence them is beyond obnoxious. And the fact he somehow thinks this is something to boast about tells you just about everything you need to know about Toto Wolff the business man. Steer clear.

      What’s more is that there was absolutely no reason to then trash Masi in public after he was already fired from his job. This man is out of a job and probably needs to find a new one in motorsport, does he really need you to do an interview talking about how unlikable he is and how bad he is at his job? Thanks Toto, for burying him some more and for speaking for others about him.

      1. The Dolphins
        11th April 2022, 13:18

        Toto is surely not the only F1 team principal/CEO to dine with Masi. Also if there was any issue with it obviously Masi could have declined to meet with him. I also want to remind folks just how political F1 is, just because we don’t see/know about the discussions happening off track does not mean they are not happening: between officials, teams, even individuals within teams (there are a lot of relationships where two partners work for opposing teams) — the human element cannot be removed from the sport.

      2. So if you believe someone is not behaving as expected, not doing their job correctly, upsetting those they are working with, you shouldn’t tell them about it?

        I’ve talked to several people over lunch in the past to sensitively discuss their job performance, including those from other departments and even other companies I was dealing with. The vast majority have been glad of the feedback, glad that I discussed it directly with them in private rather than involving the management structure, and went on to make serious improvements. Having spoken to managers, too, many of these were heading for a disciplinary, but were turned around through a small, helpful intervention. The few who responded negatively towards my initial chat often ended up leaving the company in a relatively short space of time, one way or another.

        1. I don’t know where you work, but would you doing so potentially upset others, who would then feel obligated to lunch with the person too just to make sure he wouldn’t forget their side of things? Because that’s of course what was happening here. The reason Toto sat down with Masi was probably not a very balanced evaluation, but ever so slightly tilted towards the interest of a certain team.

          1. He doesn’t work anywhere, it’s fantasy ;) A lot of different accounts in this thread are all him.

            1. It takes one to know one..

          2. The reason Toto sat down with Masi was probably

            You’re assuming that Masi was seated, and Toto decided to sit at the same table.
            Perhaps Toto was already seated and Masi decided to sit at the same table.

            No background, so no means to ascribe any pre-determined agenda.

            Not knowing Masi from direct experience, it’s hard to judge, but I think Toto was wrong to expect that someone who ignored all other feedback would take any positive notice of any comments made at that lunch.

        2. How many of these people you’ve spoken about were the boss, @drmouse?

          Masi was, and the teams were required to do what they were told.

          1. I have spoken to managers, my own direct superiors (and those higher up at times) where I was expected to do what they told me, when I felt their behaviour was not helpful. A manager behaving poorly can badly upset the productivity of a team. I’ve even spoken directly to the MD of a company over drinks before to discuss how to improve things, although that was because most of my team were on the verge of quitting due to their poor leadership decisions at that point…

            1. I see @drmouse. Yes, I’ve worked with people who do what you’ve done.
              I don’t work with any of those businesses anymore. When the boss changes things, it upsets the people who were happy and productive with the way things were.

            2. Most of the bosses who have listened to me have taken the opportunity to discuss with other people and discovered that most of them were also unhappy with the situation. They then took the opportunity to consult with the wider business and find a way forward which didn’t result in half their staff quitting and moving to a competitor who didn’t make their lives a misery.

              My alternative at these times would have been to quit and move elsewhere, and a large number of my colleagues would have done the same. I wouldn’t have done so had it been only myself, I’d have just left and found a company more suited to me. I don’t see how having a chat with the boss to encourage him to make him aware of widescale dissatisfaction in the way things were going and encourage him to consult the wider company was wrong.

            3. I used to be a junior in age director of an international engineering company employing 200 at the head office and over 1500 worldwide.

              I sat in a pub for a couple of hours with my senior managing director pretty much every week I was at the head office where we talked about who how and what as I was closer to the shop floor than they would ever be.

              It worked all the time for years and pretty much the only times we had serious issues was when I was overseas for weeks on end. Or managing other acquisitions.

              There is much to be said for the casual off site no holds barred discussion on a regular basis.

              I can fully understand a lunch with massi after the mess that was Jedda and he really should have listened. I have a feeling his pride was getting in the way of his performance.

              We know that after the big drivers session where all the drivers came away completely confused.

        3. @drmouse – +1

          That’s extremely common in the majority of workplaces. I’ve been on the receiving end and have also provided candid feedback in such situations.

          I don’t think there is anything wrong with this but if Masi did react negatively to such “feedback” then perhaps there was an issue with delivery/ how Toto said it.

          Either way, knowing this now changes nothing, FIA pretty much have “protected” him, he is doing other things, what I don’t know, but we really need to move on.

          2021 will hopefully be the worst F1 season for me, entirely based on how the regulators “regulated” it.

      3. Masi is not out of a job, FIA have said they’re going to find him a new one. As long as he keeps quiet about stuff, obviously

      4. There’s every reason for the head of one of the teams to be lunching with race director.

        1. Agreed, I strongly suspect all team bosses have done this and continue to do so. The higher echelons often use “lunches” as less formal business meetings, whether within an organisation or between organisations.

      5. Indeed. Why is Toto having lunch with the referee? Imagine this in football. I know F1 is political but this is on a sliding skill tilting towards the corruption side. It does play into the hands of Liberty in their desire to circus a sport, though. Maybe we shouldn’t regard it as a sport but rather a political game with some cars, drivers and ever changing rules depending on who is the biggest JR Ewing this month.

        1. Maybe we shouldn’t regard it as a sport but rather a political game with some cars, drivers and ever changing rules depending on who is the biggest JR Ewing this month.

          I haven’t thought of F1 as a sport for a long time. The politics and marketing/media side of it has smothered the sporting element to the extent of being little more than a sideshow.

      6. Exactly, Wolff is such a bitter man.
        Horner understands that the political game is in fact just that: a game.

      7. @sjaakfoo
        After Max Verstappens antics in the Saudi Arabian gp, it seemed perfectly normal for Toto to have a chat with Masi about the last race of the season. I actually agree with Toto here.. Masi was a m0ron.

        Horners lunches with Masi must have been more flirtatious.. And that’s why Masi had the brain faart in Abu Dhabi.. And was fired as a result.

    5. Martin Elliott
      11th April 2022, 12:27

      It’s not just Masi’s fault.

      Although an important official, the way he did the job should have been monitored by FIA management from when he was parachuted into F2/3 as a not obvious post.

      As the full report, or even a summary, of the inquiry has not been published, we don’t know how thorough the investigation was. The fact Masi felt he was able to twist the written rules and guidance, and stewards agreed, was extremely worrying. (and SC is reinterpreted in favour of Mercedes specific protest!).
      It raises the worry that the organic development of ‘the rule book’ over decades has left it inconsistent, badly organised and generally not fit for purpose.

      FIA should set-up a specialist project team to review, reorganise and rewrite the whole lot over the next few years.

      1. Masi felt secure in ignoring rules and bending a race for the benefit of the ‘show’. To do that he must have felt that his bosses supported that attitude and that is why I believe it was fortuitous that the head of the FIA changed shortly after Abu Dhabi.

        A fish really does rot from the head.

      2. I feel like the FIA saw the advocacy and other actions of the F1 teams as some form of oversight – matches how the Concrode agreement was struck. That was a mistake, and Massi was the right guy to take a bad system that was working and break it.

        Fans keep comparing the Race Director to a referee when I think the teams and the FIA saw the Race Director more like the commissioner of a private golf tournament.

    6. This year we will have new race director(s), new mistakes, new funny rulings..

      Most of all last season is so far away.. so is Mercedes form. They are nowhere near as dominant.

      Even Max Verstappen is now a distant memory, right now Ferrari and Leclerc are reigning supreme.

      The only entertainment Wolff is providing now is in form of whining about porpoising – all while Ferrari is porpoising in to well fought victories.

    7. The only words Toto hasn’t said are “…So I had him fired.”

      He and Horner are the worst things to happen to F1, other than the technical regulations.

      1. This is why the best solution for F1 after last year.. is Ferrari championship this year.

      2. Both Wolff and Horner have been in the sport for more than a decade at this point.

        There are, of course, more recent things that have entered the F1 ecosystem that have tanked the general level of discourse…

    8. Bought his way into Williams, then the same again into Mercedes. Stood on the shoulders of giants (Schumacher & Brawn) to take over a team and engine that was crafted to win championships. Come on Toto, its time to move on. What’s done is done, and Masi has already been given the chop (rightly or wrongly). All this is doing now is making yourself look worse. especially as this was the first adversity you have come across since being at Mercedes. Knuckle down and focus on this years car! Especially as George is sat in 2nd spot in the championship!

      1. A good comment indeed.

      2. Well said! Success leaves clues, there’s only two names from the last 32 years of F1 to follow if you want to have success as a driver and that’s Brawn & Newey. Toto didn’t bring success to Williams and he has merely steered the Brawn built Mercedes team from 2013. This article simply highlights by his own admission the first major failure of his leadership at Mercedes – Networking. To criticise the race director’s approach on the eve of the Title showdown probably wasn’t a great idea. When I go to a bad restaurant I always wait till the end to complain about the service, I wouldn’t complain about it before my dinner arrives! I’m sure Toto has had his fair share of phlegm brûlée.