Red Bull slam under fire Michael Masi over Saudi Arabia chaos as Abu Dhabi finale looms large

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Red Bull slam under fire Michael Masi over Saudi Arabia chaos as Abu Dhabi finale looms large - AFP
Red Bull slam under fire Michael Masi over Saudi Arabia chaos as Abu Dhabi finale looms large - AFP

Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko joined team principal Christian Horner in ramping up the pressure on FIA race director Michael Masi by accusing him of not treating Max Verstappen the same as title rival Lewis Hamilton.

The outspoken Austrian believed the calls made by Masi and the FIA’s race stewards during Sunday’s frantic Saudi Arabian Grand Prix were “very one-sided”, after Verstappen was penalised four times during his battle with seven-time champion Hamilton. 

It followed Horner’s thinly-veiled shot at Masi in the earlier hours of Monday morning in Jeddah when he claimed the sport really “missed Charlie Whiting”, the FIA’s long-serving and much-respected race director, who died in 2019 and was succeeded by Masi.

Hamilton’s third win in a row drew the Mercedes driver level on points with Verstappen heading to the Yas Marina Circuit, setting up the prospect of a thrilling season finale on Sunday.

But the tension was palpable following an error-strewn race, which involved two red flag periods, multiple high-speed crashes, and three different leaders. 

Verstappen was twice ordered to give back positions he had gained off track. The Dutchman was also given two separate time penalties, one of five seconds, and the second a 10-second time penalty, applied post-race, for “sudden” and “erratic” braking on lap 37 when he slowed to allow Hamilton to pass him, causing the Mercedes driver to clip the back of his Red Bull.

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Marko disputed nearly every decision made by the stewards. “Our engineers are preparing [evidence] that we can prove Max was constant with his braking,” he told Motorsport.com. “He didn’t ‘brake-test’ like Hamilton said he did. 

“Then he [Hamilton] crashed into our car. He unfortunately put two cuts in the rear tyre. That was so severe that we couldn’t attack anymore. We had to take speed out. That was the one thing.

“The next thing was at the second start, Hamilton was more than 10 [car] lengths behind [when the cars reassembled on the grid]. [Sebastian] Vettel got penalised in Budapest when he did it. But with this manoeuvre he [Hamilton] was preparing his tyre better for the start.

“Then he pushed Max off [at the restart]: no reaction. So we feel we are not treated the same. It’s a very one-side tending decision-making here.”

Hamilton and Mercedes were furious with Verstappen both during and after the race, with Hamilton describing the Dutchman as “f------ crazy” and “over the limit” with his aggressive driving

But Marko again disagreed. “I don’t think there is any reason why he should cool down,” he said. “It’s the match between Mercedes and Red Bull, and the match between Max and [Lewis].

“And just remember what happened in Silverstone [when Hamilton was found to be “predominantly at fault” for a crash which caused Verstappen to crash at high-speed and left him in hospital], and what happened in Budapest [when Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas took both Red Bull cars out of the race]. Don’t forget that.”

Marko’s comments followed those from Horner, who not only said the sport was missing Whiting’s vast experience, but also criticised the way Masi appeared to negotiate with Red Bull during the second red flag period, discussing what might be acceptable as punishment for Verstappen overtaking off the track.

“It was a bit like being down the souk, which was unusual,” Horner said. “I haven't come across that previously.”

Alpine executive director Marcin Budkowski made a similar observation. “There was this pretty surreal discussion between Michael and Jonathan [Wheatley, of Red Bull], which was like being at the local market with a bit of trading for position versus penalty.”

Masi is under serious pressure to keep control of proceedings this weekend with the title on the line and millions watching around the world. 

The Australian has been heavily criticised by Mercedes and Red Bull as the title battle has reached boiling point in recent weeks, with Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff opining that Sunday’s race, while spectacular, was not a good look for the sport. He said he hoped for a clean race on Sunday, with Verstappen due to win the title should neither driver finish, due to his greater number of race wins. “We just want to have a clean championship and the best man wins,” Wolff said.

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Verstappen is a 'gladiator' ready to fight, says Red Bull's Christian Horner

by Tom Cary

Max Verstappen is like a “gladiator” who will not give up in pursuit of his maiden title, according to his team principal Christian Horner.

The 23-year-old Red Bull driver has seen his once-massive lead, which stood at 21 points as recently as Brazil last month, whittled down in recent weeks, with title rival Lewis Hamilton winning three straight races for Mercedes to draw level on points heading into this weekend’s season finale in Abu Dhabi. Horner, though, insisted Verstappen was far from down.

“Max has fought like a gladiator this weekend and given it everything,” he said of his driver’s performance in Saudi Arabia where Verstappen finished second despite two time penalties and rear-end damage following a collision with Hamilton, for which Verstappen was found to be predominantly at fault. “So we now have one chance. We have a week to regroup and now it goes down to the wire at Abu Dhabi.

“It’s a straight-out fight as it has been for the entire year. For the fans it is fantastic, it keeps the championship dream alive and we have one shot and it’s time to take it.”

In an interview with Telegraph Sport last week, Horner compared Verstappen with boxer Tyson Fury, saying he did not know when he was beaten.

And Damon Hill, the 1996 world champion, said Hamilton was right to be nervous going to Abu Dhabi given the Dutchman is not the sort to compromise.

"There are some people who drive with absolutely no compromises whatsoever. And I think Max is one of those people," said Hill, who was taken out by Michael Schumacher on the final day in 1994 when they were vying for the title. "He's very skillful and he's brilliant and it's exciting to watch. I think Lewis, who has to deal with that, is now very cautious - he's not intimidated but he's very wary of Max, and probably rightly so."

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