Former Formula One race director Michael Masi has revealed that he received numerous death threats after his controversial call at last year's Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix which ultimately decided the outcome of the drivers' championship.
Masi, 44, was removed from the high-profile job over his management of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year and quit the sport's governing body FIA this month to return home to Australia.
He told Sydney's Daily Telegraph he feared for his life after the sequence of events that led to Red Bull's Max Verstappen passing Lewis Hamilton to deprive the Mercedes star of a record eighth title.
"There were some dark days," Masi said in his first substantive interview since. "And absolutely, I felt like I was the most hated man in the world. I got death threats. People saying, they were going to come after me and my family.
"I still remember walking down the street in London a day or two later. I thought I was OK until I started looking over my shoulder. I was looking at people wondering if they were going to get me."
Masi called in the safety car for the final lap in Abu Dhabi, then controversially allowed the backmarkers between race leader Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves. That led to a one-lap shoot-out between the Briton and the Dutchman, who with fresh tyres on his Red Bull car had a huge advantage which he exploited to pick off Hamilton and seal the title.
Mercedes and Red Bull had both put pressure on Masi to make decisions which would have helped their driver, with the former left incensed as they believed he followed their rivals' suggestions. They threatened legal action with Hamilton so disillusioned there were fears he would walk away from the sport.
Masi can't talk about the decision due to non-disclosure agreements with the FIA, the newspaper reported, but he said the following months were hellish.
"I was confronted with hundreds of messages," he said. "And they were shocking. Racist, abusive, vile, they called me every name under the sun. And there were death threats.
"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 Australian said he tried to ignore them, but they impacted his mental health.
"I didn't go and talk to a professional. With the benefit of hindsight, I probably should have," he said, adding that the FIA was aware of the abuse, "but I think I downplayed it all to everyone including them".
Masi decided to leave the FIA earlier this month after three years as Formula One race director and safety delegate following his appointment after the sudden passing of Charlie Whiting in 2019.
"It took me a while to process it all," he said of the Abu Dhabi fallout. "But at the end of the day I thought it was best for me to come back home and be close to my support network."
Since the Abu Dhabi race, the FIA announced measures to ease the pressure on the race director and also altered the mode of communicating with him.