Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel believes that under-fire Australian official Michael Masi should remain in his role as FIA race director.
Masi’s position is under intense scrutiny after he was accused of bending the rules to allow Max Verstappen the chance to beat Lewis Hamilton to the title following a late safety car period in last season’s dramatic finale.
Masi’s supporters have been few and far between since the race in Abu Dhabi on December 12.
But Vettel, a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, has thrown his weight behind the under-pressure Masi.
“For Michael, it has been a pity,” said the 34-year-old Vettel.
“There are two interests clashing – one is the sport and the other is the show. I don’t care so much about the show because I look at it as a sport and from a competitive point of view.
“Obviously, it is not the easiest to be in the shoes of the referee, or Michael’s shoes, but he has done a great job, particularly after filling in for [former race director] Charlie Whiting, who died so suddenly.
“Michael has been very focused and determined to do a good job. I don’t know what is in store for his future but I hope he sticks around because overall he has done a very good job.
“There was a lot of controversy surrounding the last race but that shouldn’t be, because if you look at the bigger picture he has done really well.
“The main thing moving forward is that there is clarity in these situations so no further questions are asked.”
In the final stages of the Abu Dhabi race, Masi ordered only the lapped cars between Hamilton and second-placed Verstappen through, providing the Dutchman, on fresh tyres, a shot at passing Hamilton, who was on old rubber.
Verstappen then took the victory with Hamilton claiming the result was “manipulated”.
Hamilton, 37, is now awaiting the outcome of the FIA’s investigation ahead of the new season which starts in Bahrain on March 20.
Vettel was speaking at Aston Martin’s car launch – its first of F1’s new technical era.
The famous British team returned to the grid last year but finished only seventh of the 10 constructors, with Vettel 12th in the drivers’ standings.
Team principal Otmar Szafnauer has since left and been replaced by former BMW chief Mike Krack.
“At this stage everyone is hoping to be at the top and we hope we are in a much better shape than last year,” added Vettel.
“Last year, we knew from the start it was going to be a long and difficult season so we hope for a better one.”