Former Ferrari and McLaren driver Gerhard Berger has leaped to race director Michael Masi’s defence after the highly controversial 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December.
Sir Lewis Hamilton missed out on his record-eighth Drivers’ Championship after Masi opted to allow only five lapped cars through ahead of the Safety Car before the final lap of the race.
This allowed Max Verstappen to have a clear run at Hamilton on the final lap, and the Dutchman was ultimately able to overtake the Mercedes driver to secure his maiden F1 crown.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was on the radio to Masi during the chaotic final moments of the 2021 championship to tell him that the situation was “so not right.”
A month on from the Abu Dhabi controversy, the 50-year-old still seeks answers from the FIA into why the title battle ended the way it did, saying “What happened to Lewis is just wrong.”
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He has also previously stated that Hamilton is “disillusioned” with Formula 1 after his heart-breaking defeat to the Dutchman, and has hinted that he may decide to retire following the controversial end to the 2021 season.
Berger, however, understands why Masi did what he did, insisting that the dramatic and entertaining climax to the championship cultivated by the Australian was for the best.
He agreed with the decision to “give the fans one last lap to finish the fight for the title.”
While Berger regrets what happened to Hamilton, he affirms that this was just the way the cookie crumbled.
“He handled the situation well, even if it meant bad luck for one side,” Berger told Servus TV.
“For the fan, it was the right thing to do and he was allowed to do it,” he added.
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto does not necessarily agree that Masi’s decision was the right one, but has sympathy for the incredibly difficult scenario the 44-year-old found himself in.
Binotto described Masi’s task in the closing stages at Abu Dhabi as “the hardest job in the world.”
“What is important is that everyone learn the lessons,” said Binotto.
Mercedes dropped their intention to appeal the championship classification, and insisted that they would be pushing the FIA for answers via an investigation they are now conducting into last month’s events.
The sport’s governing body – now led by Mohammed Ben Sulayem – will complete this study on 18 March.
Rumours were cast that Mercedes had reached an agreement with the FIA to remove Masi and head of single-seater technical matters Nikolas Tombazis from their respective positions, but the Silver Arrows have denied this.
Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone is adamant that providing the fans with a grand-slam finish was the right thing to do, and he has called on the FIA to defend Masi.
“I see no reason why Michael Masi should leave his post,” he said.
“It would have been terrible to end that last race under the Safety Car. If he had, Michael would be in trouble for that.
“He is a good man, the FIA should support him,” added the Briton.
Former F1 drivers Martin Brundle, Anthony Davidson and Damon Hill have all expressed their desire for Hamilton to remain in the sport in 2022 and compete for his eighth championship.
Verstappen has also said he would like the Brit to remain in Formula 1.