FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi has defended the marshals’ handling of the final moments of Qatar Grand Prix qualifying that enraged Red Bull.
At the end of qualifying, Pierre Gasly broke his front wing and punctured his right front tyre, dropping some debris on the track before his AlphaTauri limped around the final corner and to the finish line.
Single- and double-waved yellows were shown to different drivers who were behind Gasly depending on where they were on the circuit.
Red Bull’s title contender Max Verstappen and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas were adjudged to have ignored double and single waved yellows respectively, and were both given grid penalties.
Senior Red Bull figures hit out at the handling of the situation, with Horner criticising a “rogue marshal” and stating there “needs to be some grown-up decisions made by grown-ups”, while Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko accused the FIA of incompetence.
Horner’s remarks led to him being summoned to the stewards and officially warned but Masi said on Sunday evening he was not aware of Marko’s comments.
The FIA roundly defended the marshals and said the incident was managed in accordance with the governing body’s requirements.
Horner told the stewards his criticism was made “under the pressure of competition” after Verstappen’s penalty, while the stewards said the marshal did his job “in precisely the manner prescribed” by the FIA.
Horner “offered to apologise to the marshal concerned and to explain to the media that he meant no offence” and has also offered to participate in the 2022 FIA International Stewards Programme in early February.
“I think you should not attack any person,” said Masi, who referred Horner’s comments to the stewards for review.
“Particularly when we have thousands of volunteer marshals around the world, that give up a huge amount of time globally, without them this sport that everyone has very close to their heart [couldn’t happen].
“All of them give up a huge amount of time. Without them, it won’t happen. That’s the part that a lot of people miss.
“And I will defend every volunteer official and every official at every racetrack around the world, that [such criticism] is not accepted.”
Masi said the flag marshals are responsible for both the physical flags and light panels, not race control – although they can be overruled.
“With all yellow flags that are displayed from trackside, they’re in the hands of the officials’ control as they are at every venue anywhere,” said Masi.
“And if they deem that it’s a single or a double, it’s up to those officials to determine that. And they judge what they see before them.”
Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel encountered double-waved yellows twice – at Turn 15 and then exiting the final corner, when Gasly was on the right-hand side of the track moving slowly down the start-finish straight.
Gasly has a puncture 😳
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 20, 2021
These double-waved yellows were communicated via the trackside light panels.
But only a single-waved physical yellow fag was being shown by the time Bottas exited the final corner and Gasly had almost come to a stop.
That single yellow flag was also in operation when Carlos Sainz approached, just after Gasly had stopped completely.
By the time Verstappen reached the start-finish straight the double-waved yellows emerged, although these were still only physical flags.
This apparent erratic display could be explained by several things: first, how the marshals were judging the risk posed by Gasly’s limping car at different points in that final part of the lap, secondly the fact the hazard was moving round the circuit and therefore different parts of the track were ‘green’ again, and thirdly the fact there were different marshal posts being passed so different marshals would have been judging the situation as well.
“What the locals did, they reacted to the situation before them,” said Masi. “And that’s plain and simple.
“If you have a look at what was there and what was happening and with everything with Pierre’s car, they acted upon instinct for what was before them.”
He added: “They acted in the best interest of keeping everyone safe on track. And I don’t think anyone should be criticised for acting upon their instincts.”