Sebastian Vettel defends F1 race director Michael Masi, says he deserves to keep job

Sebastian Vettel has defended FIA race director Michael Masi and said the Australian deserves to keep his job despite botching the finish of last year's title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Masi implemented the rules incorrectly to force a one-lap sprint race in Abu Dhabi, which helped Max Verstappen overtake Lewis Hamilton to dramatically win the championship.

The FIA, F1's governing body, is still investigating how Masi's decision process impacted the final laps of the race, while his future in the role of race director has been called into question.

Vettel believes it is unfair to judge Masi purely on the basis of one decision.

"For Michael, it has been a pity," Vettel said ahead of the launch of Aston Martin's 2022 car. "There are two interests clashing.

"One is the sport and the other is the show. I don't care so much about the show because I look at is a sport and from a competitive point of view.

"Obviously, it is not the easiest to be in the shoes of the referee, or Michael's shoes, but he has done a great job, particularly after filling in for [former race director] Charlie Whiting who died so suddenly.

"Michael has been very focused and determined to do a good job. I don't know what is in store for his future but I hope he sticks around because overall he has done a very good job.

"There was a lot of controversy surrounding the last race but that shouldn't be, because if you look at the bigger picture he has done really well.

"The main thing moving forward is that there is clarity in these situations so no further questions are asked."

Vettel's teammate Lance Stroll, who was one of the drivers not allowed to unlap himself on the final lap, while those between Hamilton and Verstappen on track were, spoke out against Masi's decision-making.

"My opinion is that it's ridiculous that we didn't go back racing in the way that we should have gone back racing," Stroll said in his media session. "We can't change the rules halfway through, or at the end of a race, tell half the cars they can overtake.

"Unfortunately I was part of the group of the other half of the cars that couldn't overtake on brand new soft tyres with the opportunity to pass and maybe do something, not necessarily, but whatever. It's just never been done before, and I think it's important that we keep rules consistent. I understand that it's great to go racing and everyone wants to see the last lap of the race and the two drivers fighting for the world championship go head-to-head with one lap to go. But we can't be making up rules at the end of a race like that. It has to be set in stone."

"If there was maybe an error where cars didn't pass soon enough when the safety car came out or back markers weren't allowed to pass the safety car early enough, and the consequence is we won't get a whole lap of racing, well then that's how it is. That is... the rules have to be consistent. In Formula 1, we've seen some inconsistency in penalties and decision-making, and I think this was just like maybe a little bit too much. It's important that those things are set in stone.

The controversy over Abu Dhabi created a question as to whether Hamilton would continue racing into 2022. The seven-time world champion was said to be "disillusioned" in the aftermath of that race, although last week he ended a near-two month hiatus from social media and declared: "I've been gone. Now I'm back."

Hamilton has since shared Instagram stories showing him training, presumably for the new season, although he has not officially declared he will race this year.

Vettel refused to be drawn into speculating on Hamilton's mindset.

"I don't know honestly whether Lewis was considering whether to stop or not. I think you have to ask him!

"I think he's competitive... Has he confirmed that he's going to race? I don't know what the latest is."

The F1 season starts with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 20.