Max Verstappen appeared to be alone in being one of only a handful of people who didn’t agree with Michael Masi’s decision to be sacked by the FIA, but Jonny Herbert has explained why he feels the Dutchman may in fact be glad changes have been made. Verstappen’s maiden F1 World Championship was supposed to be heralded as a masterful achievement, but the aftermath of Abu Dhabi focused largely on the furore surrounding Masi’s involvement in the race result.
Mercedes and Hamilton were incensed with protests lodged just minutes after the chequered flag.
The FIA did announce in January that an investigation into the handling of the race had been started with the full results yet to be published.
But, following the F1 Commission meeting last month, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem announced that Masi would in fact be replaced as F1 race director.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff called it “encouraging” to see the FIA make changes to the structure of the race director with Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich set to alternate in the role this season.
Hamilton was also pleased to see the FIA announce a change in direction, while several other drivers on the grid felt Masi’s position was untenable.
Verstappen was part of a minority who thought Masi should continue as race director, stating his dismissal as “unacceptable” and he felt the FIA chief was “thrown under the bus”.
But Herbert disagreed with Verstappen’s view when asked by Express Sport to give his opinion on the race director upheaval ahead of the new season.
“You can have a relationship with the race director and I always remember I had a good relationship with Charlie,” he said.
“There was always that respect, there was always that ability to go and see him, same as with Michael as well.
“From Max’s point of view, I can sort of understand it with the way everything ended up at the end of the day.
“But I think you’ve got to go with the masses of the drivers, what they sort of thought and I thought the majority were obviously more thinking of change. Some said he could have been helped a little more, which is exactly what they’ve done.
“Then there is the situation where when the pressure is on, you can’t crack to the pressure and sort of make up your own rules, which is what we saw in Abu Dhabi.
“That’s an absolute no-no because a driver’s trust in that race director is paramount and it affected one in a big way, affected others in a smaller way.
“That shouldn’t come into it so change needed to happen. Yes Max thought what he thought and that’s completely up to him, but I don’t agree because I know that as an ex-racing driver that respect for that man sitting in that seat has got to be there and it wasn’t there for all.”
Both Wittich and Freitas have plenty of experience as race directors, having come from DTM and WEC racing series respectively.
They will also be helped out by former deputy race director Herbie Blash, who has been appointed as senior advisor.