“Some of Max’s overtaking last year was dazzling and you could feel that starting to irritate Lewis,” said the RBR director, speaking of Lewis Hamilton’s “explosive” duel with Max Verstappen for the 2021 F1 championship.
Max Verstappen is heading for the second, back-to-back title of his Formula 1 career this year in a much less stressful way – thanks to the problems of both Ferrari and Mercedes this year – than last year, when his battle with Lewis Hamilton was judged in the thread of the controversial decisions of the then FIA racing director, Michael Massi, at the Abu Dhabi GP.
Last year’s tension reached its peak not only in the season finale, but earlier in the clashes between the two title contenders at Silverstone and Monza. At the British circuit in particular, their clash culminated in Verstappen’s 51G power collision at the Copse turn barriers, and the tension escalated, both in public statements from both sides.
Speaking today, nine months after the end of the 2021 championship, Red Bull Racing principal Christian Horner said this year’s Max Verstappen battle with Charles Leclerc involves much more respect between the two drivers than last year’s Lewis Hamilton.
“You know, there’s a difference, there’s a little bit of a different respect with Charles.”said the Briton. “They were racing rivals as children, and there was a mutual respect. I never once heard Lewis acknowledge Max’s ability. There was also a bit of fuel to the fire between them, and you could feel that between them.”
Horner said after the Silverstone incident last year that Hamilton “drive like an amateur” and accused the Briton of celebrating his victory there while Verstappen was in hospital. He has now admitted that Hamilton deserves the full respect of everyone for what he has achieved in Formula 1 – but added that last year’s battle had psychological ramifications for Hamilton as well as racing ones.
“I think that’s how it happened, maybe more so in Lewis’ mind. Because he’s the seven-time world champion with everything to lose, Max is the new risk-taking driver, giving everything he’s got, and with nothing to lose lose. Some of his overtaking last year was dazzling and you could feel that starting to irritate Lewis.” Horner continued.
“We saw, after Lewis took pole position at Silverstone, that he had ‘broken’ inside him when Max won the sprint race. If Max had gone through (the) Copse corner, I don’t think they would have ever seen him again in the afternoon, so there was also an air of desperation in the air. There was a lot at stake and in those cases emotions run high, but maybe it affected Lewis more than Max because he had more to lose. Max only had something to gain.” added the Briton.
Speaking shortly after the end of last year’s championship, Hamilton, in the new Netflix documentary Drive to Survive, said that Verstappen is “aggressive as hell” in his driving, saying that he is like many drivers he has met in his career. who were trying to bully him on the track.
In addition to the two drivers, Horner also explained what unfolded between him and Mercedes F1 director Toto Wolff behind the scenes at the Silverstone race. “There was suddenly an endless dialogue between Toto and Michael (Massey). Then he (Wolf) sent him an email and (Massey) replied. And then I thought ‘ok, I’m not going to put up with this’, I’m going to intervene.
It was incredibly one-sided not being able to have a team manager step in and influence the match director, and midway through the match I had a very tense chat with Toto. In that race, where Toto was pushing for his views that his driver should not be punished, I had a driver in hospital and the car out of the race and obviously I was very disappointed with what happened.”
And then speaking about the events of Abu Dhabi, Horner concluded: “I imagine things went to the limit in Abu Dhabi, where Toto at several points in the race was trying to keep the safety car from coming out, so as not to change the course of the race. From the first moment I heard it, my first reaction was To make sure that the best defense is offense because the last person to say something in someone else’s ear has the biggest impact.
I think that the crucial element was (Nicolas) Latifi’s accident and there was the exit of the safety vehicle immediately, with the priority to restart the race. The only mistake that was made was not allowing the last two cars to overtake and enter the race lap. But that would not have made the slightest difference, the result would have been identical to what was produced.”