FIA chief Mohammed Ben Sulayem: I still speak with ex-race director Michael Masi

FIA chief Mohammed Ben Sulayem: I still speak with ex-race director Michael Masi

Formula One ruler Mohammed Ben Sulayem has revealed he still speaks to Michael Masi – the man accused of costing Lewis Hamilton a record eighth world championship – as the sport returns to the scene of its most contentious race.

A year on from last season’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Hamilton has moved to banish the memory of his darkest day, insisting his thirst for the sport remains unquenched.

He finished fourth in practice on Friday, six tenths back from pace-setter Max Verstappen.

Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi
Lewis Hamilton is back in Abu Dhabi – a year after he lost the world championship (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

Masi was sacked as F1 race director after he fudged the safety car rules – allowing only the cars between Hamilton and rival Verstappen to unlap themselves – at last year’s winner-takes-all finale.

His controversial move allowed Verstappen to beat Hamilton and take the title.

But speaking on the eve of this year’s concluding round at the Yas Marina Circuit, Ben Sulayem, who succeeded Jean Todt as FIA president in the days after the hotly-disputed event, said he remains in contact with the Australian, despite replacing him with two race directors in the opening months of his tenure.

Ben Sulayem also hinted Masi over promoted himself in the media, but said the sport’s gruelling schedule contributed to his downfall.

Former race director Michael Masi
Michael Masi was removed as race director following last year’s race in Abu Dhabi (David Davies/PA)

The FIA said in its report into last year’s race that Masi made a “human error” but acted in “good faith”.

“I am still in touch with Michael,” said Ben Sulayem on Friday. “Michael has a lot of experience, but if you keep doing your work, you have to keep away from a lot of media because it can get into your mind.

“Who are the superstars? Nobody other than the drivers.

“We now have a roster for refereeing and for the race director. I would say that we cannot rely on just one or two race directors but I do trust the current and growing team that we have.

“The Premier League are investing £25million in refereeing and we have to invest more in single-seater racing and that is what I am doing.

Max Verstappen speaking to Mohammed ben Sulayem
Max Verstappen (pictured here with Ben Sulayem) finished fastest in practice (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

“There are 24 grands prix and six sprint races next year. When I see our management and I shake hands with them, you talk about human error and human error comes from stress and overwork.

“Maybe the report (into Abu Dhabi) was not enough but it was a good attempt at transparency and now if we have an issue, we are transparent.”

On the topic of being upfront, Ben Sulayem said there were no plans to investigate suspicions around the legality of Sergio Perez’s win at May’s Monaco Grand Prix.

At last weekend’s race in Brazil, Verstappen pointed to a previous incident with Perez on his refusal to trade positions with him on the final lap.

It is understood Verstappen believes his team-mate crashed on purpose in qualifying to deny him pole position. Both Perez and Red Bull deny the accusation.

Ben Sulayem added: “I haven’t had anyone who said ‘we want it investigated’. But if there is something to be investigated, we are more than happy to do it.

“If there is an issue, I will not hide from it. If I cover up anything, we will never improve or never evolve.”