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Max Verstappen says FIA threw Michael Masi under the bus

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Red Bull puts new RB18 through its paces at Silverstone (1:52)

Max Verstappen got out in the new RB18 at Silverstone ahead of the new F1 season. (1:52)

BARCELONA, Spain -- Formula One world champion Max Verstappen has accused the FIA of throwing Michael Masi "under the bus" after the governing body announced the former F1 race director will be replaced this year.

Masi oversaw the controversial season finale in Abu Dhabi last year in which Verstappen was crowned champion after beating Lewis Hamilton to victory on the final lap of the race.

In an attempt to ensure the championship was not decided behind a safety car, Masi skipped over parts of the safety car restart procedure and in the process handed Verstappen an advantage when racing resumed on the final lap.

Masi's decision was made after he received direct radio calls from both the Mercedes and Red Bull pit walls urging him to make decisions that would favour one team or the other. It was then hugely controversial in the aftermath, with a Mercedes appeal against his actions being rejected by the FIA's stewards.

After conducting an investigation into the safety car restart earlier this year, the FIA decided to make changes to the "refereeing" of the sport, including the decision to replace Masi with two new race directors.

Verstappen, who was speaking during a press conference at the first preseason test of 2022 in Spain, said he felt the FIA's decision to remove Masi was wrong.

"I think it's not correct," he said. "Everyone always tries to do the best job and everyone can always use help, us drivers also, we have a whole team behind us, to improve ourselves.

"For me it is very unfair what happened to Michael because he's really been thrown under the bus, and of course people talk a lot about what was decided in Abu Dhabi but can you imagine a referee in whatever sport has the coach or equivalent screaming in his ear all the time 'yellow card, red card, no decision, no foul', it's impossible to make a decision.

"So that F1 already allowed that, that team members could talk to him while making decisions, is very wrong, because it needed to be Michael making the decisions on his own without having people screaming in his ears. The people who did sack him allowed it in the first place for me is unacceptable, and now basically just, yeah, sacked him. I found it really incredible.

"I feel really sorry for Michael, I think he was a very capable and good race director, I have nothing against the new race directors, I think they're also good and capable race directors, but personally and for Michael I felt really sad and I sent him a text as well. Not the right decision."

Part of the reform of race control will include more support for the new race directors. They will be able to cross-reference decisions with a virtual race control room that the FIA has likened to the controversial Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR) system in football and will also have former deputy race director Herbie Blash alongside them as a sounding board.

Blash, 73, left the FIA in 2016 after a long and close working relationship former race director Charlie Whiting, who Masi replaced following Whiting's sudden death at the 2019 Australian Grand Prix. Verstappen said the extra support now being offered to the new race directors should have been in place the moment Masi took over the role from Whiting. "After Charlie died it was very hard to take over from someone like him, he had so much experience from previous years, and Charlie had help around him, and maybe Michael just needed a little bit more -- everyone needs experience," he said.

"I mean I came into the sport, my first year, a complete rookie, now I'm so much further than what I was back then, and I think it would have been the same for Michael. To immediately sack him, for me, is not the right decision but I wish him the best with whatever comes next and I hope it's better than being the F1 race director."