Verstappen has won nine record races this season, stumping Hamilton for the first time since 2016, when then-teammate Nico Rosberg overtook him by five points to claim the title.
Most dramatic Formula 1 title fight For at least a decade, on November 19, when Christian Horner and Toto Wolff exchanged taunts, the FIA also denied Mercedes the right to appeal the absence of a fine last week against championship leader Max Verstappen.
Wolff, the head of Mercedes, and Red Bull director Horner sat side-by-side during a tense 30-minute media briefing that showed the total animosity between the two teams.
“This is a top-tier motorsport world championship,” Wolf said, “and what began as Olympic boxing has evolved into professional boxing and is now called MMA. Elbows are now allowed because the rules say so and the gloves are off. Nothing else should be expected. “
F1 moved this week to Losail at the first Qatar Grand Prix with last week’s race results still hanging over the championship fight. Lewis Hamilton earned his 101st victory at Brazilian Grand Prix close the gap to Verstappen to 14 points in three races.
Mercedes challenged the decision not to punish Verstappen in Sao Paulo when a Red Bull driver knocked Hamilton off the track as the seven-time champion tried to throw forward. The FIA heard an appeal on November 18 and then rejected Mercedes’ request as Horner and Wolf were in the middle of the November 19 briefing.
Horner shrugged his shoulders to Wolf, declaring that “there is no relationship between them.” He also suggested that the Mercedes team may crack as Red Bull tries to end its reign at the top of the series.
“I think this was the first time they were challenged. It’s interesting to see how people react to pressure, how they react when challenged, ”Horner said. “This is by far the most intense political title fight we have participated in in this sport.”
No relationship is one thing. But respect?
Horner said he appreciates Mercedes’ achievements. Ditto for Hamilton, who could overtake Michael Schumacher with a record eight championship titles if he manages to catch up with Verstappen in the next three races.
“But I don’t need to have lunch with Toto. I don’t need to kiss him [butt] or something like that. There are several other team leaders who can, ”Horner said. “Toto and I are very different characters and we act in different ways. Am I going to spend Christmas with Toto? Probably no.”
Is there even a chance for peace between the warring teams? Wolf thinks not.
“I think the competition is too high,” Wolf said. “You can’t expect to be dining with your opponent, or a rival team, or your opponent in a sporting event, regardless of personalities and characters.”
Meanwhile on the track, Verstappen led the first training session and looked quite comfortable on the 5.4 km (3.5 miles) track. Mercedes driver Valterri Bottas was the fastest in the second training session.
Hamilton was fourth in both sessions.
Verstappen has won nine record races this season, stumping Hamilton for the first time since 2016, when then-teammate Nico Rosberg overtook him by five points to claim the title. Hamilton has won four championships in a row after being defeated by Rosberg.
Mercedes and Red Bull sparred all season – a collision between the drivers on the first lap of the British Grand Prix sent Verstappen to the hospital, and an accident between them in Monza caused Verstappen’s car to land on Hamilton’s head.
But in Brazil it took it to another level. Mercedes was found to have an illegal wing on Hamilton’s car, and Verstappen was filmed in the stands illegally touching the part after training.
The drama continued throughout the weekend, and when Verstappen was unpunished for Hamilton’s cross, Mercedes broke out. Despite Hamilton winning the race, Mercedes protested the denial of the challenge in the hope that Verstappen would be penalized retroactively. If the protest had been successful, Verstappen would have received an interim sentence that would have led him from second to third at the Brazilian Grand Prix and prolonged the title race even further.
Wolf said the decision was “fully anticipated.”
“We wanted to spark a discussion on this issue, because it will probably be a topic,” said Wolf. “We didn’t think what would happen next.”
Horner called it the right decision.
“Otherwise it would have opened a Pandora’s box for a whole host of other incidents that happened in that race,” Horner said. “I think the most important thing right now is to focus on this Grand Prix. We want a good, clean, fair fight. “