Ex-F1 race director Michael Masi says he received death threats after 2021 finale

Michael Masi death threats
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
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BUDAPEST, Hungary — Formula One’s former race director Michael Masi has described the abuse, including death threats, he received on social media following last season’s controversial call at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen won his first world title after overtaking Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton on the last lap following a heavily disputed restart procedure.

Hamilton led comfortably until a crash by Nicholas Latifi brought out the safety car with five laps remaining. Verstappen stopped under yellow flags for fresher tires, and Masi flipped his decision and let the five lapped drivers separating Verstappen from Hamilton pass the safety car under yellow. But not all eight, which would have taken longer.

Undertaking an investigation after feeling the title was in danger of being tarnished, governing body FIA concluded Masi had made a “human error” but acted in good faith. Masi was replaced in his role and then left the FIA entirely three weeks ago to relocate back to Australia.

In an interview with Australia’s NewsCorp, the 44-year-old Australian recalled feeling like “the most hated man in the world” as he revealed the level of hostility he endured online via hundreds of toxic messages.

“They were shocking. Racist, abusive, vile, they called me every name under the sun. And there were death threats. People saying they were going to come after me and my family,” Masi said in the interview. “And they kept on coming. Not just on my Facebook but also on my LinkedIn, which is supposed to be a professional platform for business. It was the same type of abuse.”

The interview Masi gave to the Sunday Telegraph carried screenshots of some of the messages, with Masi saying he was relieved not to have more social media platforms where people could attack him.

“Thankfully, I don’t have an Instagram account. Or Twitter, I don’t have any of that,” Masi said. “Being old-school I do however have Facebook, which I used to stay in touch with family and friends. I opened my messages that night to check in with them. I did not know I could receive them from people I did not know. But I was wrong. I was confronted with hundreds of messages.”

Masi tried initially to blank out all of it.

“I just thought I would ignore it and get on with it because I knew it could take me to a very dark place. I tried to cut myself off mentally and I thought I could,” he said. “I mostly kept it all to myself … The FIA knew but I think I downplayed it all to everyone, including them.”

But the toll on Masi’s mental health was already considerable.

“I remember walking down the street in London a day or two later. I thought I was okay until I started looking over my shoulder,” he said. “I was looking at people and wondering if they were going to get me.”

He fought a private inner battle as he dealt with the abuse in his own way.

“I only talked to my close family – but only briefly. I also lost my appetite,” he said. “It did have a physical effect but it was more mental. I just wanted to be in a bubble. I just wanted to be alone, which was very challenging.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told The Associated Press in a recent interview that Masi had been treated terribly and the criticism was deeply unfair.

“To me that was tantamount to bullying. He was hung out to dry by a couple of teams, and I think that’s absolutely not right,” Horner told the AP. “It’s unacceptable, the guy is getting threats towards his family and so on.”

Masi regrets not seeking professional help.

“I probably should have,” he said. “I should have gone and spoken to someone in a professional sense. But in saying that, I had some amazing people around me that could see it and were checking in daily. I was super fortunate to have that support network.”

Masi is not able to talk about the decision itself because of a non-disclosure agreement with the FIA.

“The whole experience has made me a much stronger person,” he said. “I have just had the longest break in my professional career and I have used that time to reconnect with family and friends. I have also done all that self-maintenance you can neglect when you are in the grind.”

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E Team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”