Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has accused rivals Mercedes of “bullying” behaviour resulting in the exit of race director Michael Masi.
Horner has questioned the FIA’s removal of Masi in the wake of the controversy over last year’s title decider.
“Was it right to fire him based on pressure that was placed on him from a rival team? That for me was wrong,” Horner said.
“That’s tantamount to bullying. It’s passively aggressive.”
Horner’s remarks, made in an exclusive interview with BBC Sport, are a reference to Mercedes, whose driver Lewis Hamilton refused to commit to coming back to Formula 1 this season until he had seen the results of the FIA’s inquiry into the race in Abu Dhabi.
Mercedes have declined to comment.
Hamilton was beaten to the drivers’ title by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen after a safety-car period late in the season’s final race in Abu Dhabi.
Masi has been offered a new role at the FIA – the sport’s governing body – and replaced as race director by two people who will alternate in the job, with a new support structure put in place to lessen the pressure on the role.
In a wide-ranging interview, Horner also discussed:
His views on what happened in Abu Dhabi
His driver Verstappen’s controversial driving tactics
Verstappen’s new six-year contract with Red Bull
His decision to oppose an increase in the number of ‘sprint’ events
On Masi, Horner added: “Yes, Michael did make mistakes and it was frustrating, but you have to look at the role that he was in and the tools that he had at his disposal.
“You can’t just place the blame on Michael. It’s unfair to do that.”
Horner has drawn some criticism from within F1 for talking about the need to be concerned for Masi’s mental health, given the amount of blame he and Red Bull levelled at officials in the course of 2021.
But he said he had spoken out because he felt it was unacceptable the way Masi had been treated, both by fans threatening him on social media, and by the FIA, which Horner believes did not give its race director enough support.
“We were on the receiving end of many of Michael’s errors,” Horner said. “But he is in a high-pressure role in a high-pressure sport.
“But what it is unforgivable is the trolling, the abuse online, the death threats that he and his family had. That absolutely cannot be condoned in any way.
“That has nothing to do with the sport. It’s just out-and-out bullying and I would not accept that in any way within our organisation.
“That’s why I spoke up for Michael because I felt that he had not had any support. He had not had any backing. That he’d been hung out to dry and that there was this a concerted campaign that was very passive-aggressively focused against him.
“I will always stand up for someone who is being bullied. Bullying is not acceptable.” (BBC)