John Watson, a former Grand Prix winner turned broadcaster, believes that Michael Masi's position as FIA Race Director is likely to be quite shaky heading into 2022, but expressed some sympathy for how the situation in Abu Dhabi unfolded for the Australian.
Masi took most of the flak for how the final laps of the Abu Dhabi GP played out, in which a controversial call was made to only allow some lapped cars to unlap themselves before the Safety Car was withdrawn at the end of the penultimate lap.
F1's governing body, the FIA, is carrying out a full investigation into the events of the race that resulted in Max Verstappen snatching the title away from Lewis Hamilton on the final lap.
The findings of the investigation are yet to be published, but Watson is of the opinion that Masi had options available to him which he chose not to use.
"Personally, I would say it's difficult," Watson told RacingNews365.com when asked whether the Race Director's position is tenable.
"Masi didn't take a side and favour one driver or one team over the other, but there's the consequence of what his actions were and his desire, I believe, to see the race finish under a green flag.
"I understand that it would have been awful way to end the championship if it finished under a Safety Car. But there were potentially other options, of which one, I understand, would have been to red flag it immediately, then everybody could have come into the pits, could have reloaded on fresh rubber, and restarted the race.
"At least that would have been a level playing field for everybody, but the way that it unfolded made it an unlevel playing field for Lewis, and a much more favourable one for Red Bull and for Max.
"Ultimately, I think that there's been a number of issues throughout the season. Some of these have been compounded by these incessant communications between pit wall and Race Director."
"It's a consequence of Netflix's Drive to Survive"
Watson went on to explain that he feels Masi has lost the support of the teams as a result of how 2021's decision-making was handled.
"I just wonder what kind of support there is for him amongst the teams going into a new season – can they rely on his judgement?" Watson questioned.
"Is it unimpeachable? Or is it going to be questionable? Every time he makes a judgement, is it going to be challenged over the airwaves? 'Have you made the right call?', or, 'Here's the reasons why you made the wrong call' – that's the wrong way!
"It's like having a football match, having the two managers of each respective team having an ongoing dialogue with the referee during a match.
"It's non-sensical on the one hand, and it just makes a mockery of the authority of those people that are chosen to adjudicate the 90 minutes of a football match, or the 90 minutes of a Grand Prix."
Watson reckons the very public transmission of the radio messages, as well as the overall shift of focus to making the sport more entertaining, has had consequences on the governance of the sport.
"There are channels for challenges, but not as a part of what I feel has become the consequence of the access given to Netflix and Drive to Survive, wherein we've now got this type of 'Support Act' to the stars," he commented.
"These people, ie. the FIA and their officers, some of them have become a part of this 'show'. They're not there to be that – they're there to adjudicate. They're not there to be known or shown or whatever.
"They are people that should be behind the scenes and shouldn't at any point of time be given acknowledgement. That's not their job, and that's not what they're in that position for."
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