Red Bull team boss Christian Horner says Lewis Hamilton has “met his match” in Max Verstappen as both are “uncompromising” drivers, but insists Verstappen is not “overly aggressive” as suggested.
Hamilton and Verstappen are fighting for the 2021 world championship and collided controversially in the recent British GP.
Seven-time world champion Hamilton was penalised by the stewards for the clash, which wiped out Verstappen and left him needing a precautionary trip to the hospital, and was slammed by Red Bull for his driving in causing the incident.
However, Hamilton and his Mercedes team felt Verstappen had not left enough room on the outside of the corner, commenting on Verstappen’s aggressive driving style and suggesting it made a clash at some point inevitable.
In defending some of his own comments after the race, which he admitted were subject to “emotion”, Horner has moved to address the remarks made about Verstappen too – reiterating his belief that Verstappen was not the problem at Silverstone and that he is being subjected to an outdated characterisation.
“This was an on-track incident between two of the best drivers in the world,” Horner said in explaining the strength of his comments post-race, when he criticised Hamilton extensively.
“At the point in time when you have a driver in hospital and the extent of any injuries has not yet been made clear, your car has been written off and the stewards have penalised the driver seen to be responsible, it is natural that emotion comes into play, for all involved, whether you feel wronged or victorious.
“I also felt the narrative that Max was being ‘overly aggressive’ at that stage was unjustified.
“You only have to look at the fact Max has zero penalty points on his licence and has not been found guilty of any on-track misjudgements in recent years.
“The aggressive 17-year-old F1 rookie Max Verstappen that Hamilton is referring to is not the Max Verstappen of today, just as Hamilton is not the same driver he was when he entered the sport.
“Both drivers are of course uncompromising in their driving style, but they are both highly skilled drivers with a great deal of experience.
“The reality is that Hamilton has met his match in a car that is now competitive, and I agree that both drivers need to show each other respect, but Hamilton was the aggressor on Sunday.”
Red Bull’s anger and disappointment after the grand prix was down to several factors.
Verstappen’s condition was the initial concern, though he was fortunately released from hospital late on Sunday evening with no injuries beyond being “battered and bruised”.
Red Bull also felt Hamilton had got off lightly with a 10-second penalty, given Hamilton still went on to win the race. The team is still considering whether it should request a right to review the penalty.
But specific conduct from Hamilton and Mercedes also drew Horner’s ire.
The celebrations from Hamilton and Mercedes post-race, when there were jubilant scenes in front of packed Silverstone grandstands, was lambasted by the team and Verstappen.
Horner was also angered by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff’s trip to the stewards during the red flag caused by Verstappen’s crash.
On the post-race celebrations, Horner appeared to redirect his frustration from Hamilton – who Verstappen called disrespectful – to Mercedes.
“I am also still disappointed about the level of celebrations enjoyed in the wake of the accident,” he said.
“The Mercedes team were aware of the gravity of the crash with Max widely reported as having been hospitalised and requiring further checks.
“It is unimaginable not to inform your driver of the situation, moreover to protect your driver in case they do not show the necessary restraint in celebrating, particularly when it was as a result of an incident he was penalised for.”
Wolff’s trip to the stewards was at the instruction of FIA race director Michael Masi, who was responding to radio messages from Wolff and Horner during the red-flag period.
Horner then went to the stewards himself after discovering via the F1 broadcast that Wolff was going there.
Masi has subsequently told teams that unsolicited approaches to the stewards will not be allowed unless permission is given or team personnel are responding to a summons.
“He [Masi] is the point of contact for teams; he is the referee,” said Horner.
“You can voice your point of view to him over the team radio and then he may decide to pass it to the stewards or not.
“The stewards themselves are, and always have been, a totally independent body and during the 16 and a half seasons I have been team principal, I have never walked into the stewards’ room in the middle of a race or session.
“It was brought to my attention through the TV broadcast that Toto was going to see the stewards with information he had tried to email to Michael before they had ruled on a penalty.
“It is a little bit like trying to lobby a jury while they make their final verdict. The stewards are locked away to ensure they are independent of external influence in order to reach their own conclusions.
“So having heard that Toto was lobbying the stewards, I went up to see them and raised the point that neither of us should be there and it was not appropriate for anyone to interfere while the decision making process was underway.
“It is also detailed in the sporting code that this is not acceptable and I am now pleased to see that the FIA have clarified that this sort of lobbying will not be tolerated in the future as it may well pressure the stewards into a decision that is not wholly fair or impartial.”