Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has branded Mercedes’ behaviour regarding former Formula 1 race director Michael Masi as bullying, as the fallout from the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP once again hitting the headlines. 

The FIA decided to remove Masi from his position as F1 race director following an investigation into the final race of the 2021 season, and the controversy it generated as  Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton on the last lap of the race following a safety car. 

“Was it right to fire him based on pressure that was placed on him from a rival team? That for me was wrong,” Horner told BBC Sport.

“That’s tantamount to bullying. It’s passively aggressive. 

Michael Masi

“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.”

“We were on the receiving end of many of Michael‘s errors. 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 a 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.”

Formula One – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – December 12, 2021 Red Bull’s Max Verstappen crosses the line to win the race and the world championship Pool via REUTERS/Kamran Jebreili

Rules were followed

Horner clarified his belief that the rules regarding the safety car weren’t incorrectly applied, as five lapped cars which were between Verstappen and Hamilton were allowed to unlap themselves, leaving the Dutchman directly behind his title rival and on fresh soft tyres, compared to the Mercedes driver’s old hard set. 

The FIA rules state that “any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car, and once the last lapped car has passed the leader the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap.” These rules weren’t followed to the letter and brought about an appeal after the race by Mercedes

“I don’t believe the rules were not followed correctly,” Horner continued. “I think that they were applied perhaps differently to how they had been before by not allowing every single car to unlap.”

“If [the stewards] felt the rules were not applied correctly, they wouldn’t have declared the result following Mercedes‘ post-race appeal.”