Tensions simmer in Qatar between Mercedes and Red Bull
Lucille The most dramatic F1 fight in at least a decade intensified on Friday when Christian Horner and Toto Wolff exchanged barbs at the same time as the FIA denied Mercedes the right to appeal without penalty last week to championship leader Max Verstappen.
Wolff, Mercedes chief, and Red Bull Horner boss sat side by side during a tense 30-minute media conference that demonstrated the utter animosity between the two teams.
“It’s the world championships for the highest class in motorsports, and what started as an Olympic boxing went to professional boxing and is now MMA. The elbows are now allowed because the rules say that, and the gloves are off. Nothing else to expect,” Wolff said.
Formula 1 has this week moved to Lusail for the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix, and last week’s race results are still pending due to the championship battle. Lewis Hamilton claimed his 101st victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix to reduce his delay against Verstappen to just 14 points with three races remaining.
Mercedes protested the decision not to penalize Verstappen in Sao Paulo when Red Bull driver Hamilton was sidelined as the seven-times champion attempted a pass for the lead. The FIA heard the appeal on Thursday and then rejected Mercedes’ request as Horner Wolff was in the middle of Friday’s conference.
Horner shrugged Wolff, declaring that there was “no relationship” between the two. He also indicated that the Mercedes team could be cracked up as Red Bull is trying to end its reign at the top of the series.
“I think it’s the first time they’ve been challenged. It’s interesting to see how people react under pressure, and how they react when they are challenged,” Horner said.
Not related to one thing. But respect?
Horner said he appreciates what Mercedes has accomplished. Same for Hamilton, who could overtake Michael Schumacher with a record eight championships if he can catch Verstappen in the next three races.
“But I don’t need to go to dinner with Toto. I don’t need to kiss (his butt) or anything. There are some other team principles that you can do,” Horner said. “Toto and I are very different characters and we work in very different ways. Will I spend Christmas with Toto? Mostly not.”
Is there any chance at all for peace between the warring teams? Wolf does not think so.
“I think the competition is very high,” Wolff said. “You can’t expect to have dinner with your opponent or with a rival team or your enemy in a sports competition, no matter what the characters and characters are.”
Meanwhile, on the track, Verstappen topped the first practice session and looked very comfortable on the 5.4-kilometre (3.5-mile) circuit. Sunday’s race will be the first in a 10-year agreement between Formula 1 and Qatar.
The Dutchman was 79sec faster than Hamilton, who was fourth fastest in first practice.
Verstappen has won nine races this season to put Hamilton on the ropes for the first time since 2016, when teammate Nico Rosberg beat him by five points to win the title. Hamilton has won four consecutive championships since losing to Rosberg.
Mercedes and Red Bull have been competing all season – a collision between the drivers on the first lap of the British Grand Prix sent Verstappen to hospital for precautionary reasons, and an accident between the two at Monza sent Verstappen’s car tumbling over Hamilton’s. President.
But it reached another level in Brazil. Mercedes was found to have an illegal wing in Hamilton’s car, and Verstappen was caught in video taken from the grandstands illegally touching the part after practice.
The drama built throughout the weekend and when Verstappen wasn’t penalized for running Hamilton wide, Mercedes broke out. Despite Hamilton winning the race, Mercedes protested the lack of contact in the hope that Verstappen would be retroactively punished. If the protest had been successful, Verstappen would have had a time penalty that would have dropped him from second to third in the Brazilian GP and tightened the title race.
Wolff said the ruling was “entirely expected”.
“We wanted to spark a discussion about it because it’s potentially a topic,” Wolf said. “We didn’t think it would go any further.”
Horner called it the right decision.
“Other than that, he would have opened Pandora’s box in connection with a whole bunch of other accidents that happened in that race,” Horner said. “I think the most important thing now is to focus on this Grand Prix. We want a good, clean prize, a fair fight.”
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