Mercedes, Red Bull play beautifully before the F1 championship

ABU DHABI – Toto Wolff and Christian Horner barely looked at each other when they sat next to each other three weeks ago to discuss the Formula One championship.

Their icy relationship thawed briefly on Friday ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where seven-time champions Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are on top of the points table heading into the race to decide the title.

“Good luck. May the best man and best team win,” said Mercedes chief Wolff, who reached for the constructors’ championship trophy to shake hands with Horner’s rival Horner. Red Bull when asked what the two captains have to say to each other.

“Exactly,” replied Horner, who accepted the handshake.

It was significantly different from November 19 at the Qatar Grand Prix, where tension was evident with rigid body language and mutual disdain.


“I don’t need to go to dinner with Toto. I don’t need to kiss (butt) him or anything like that,” Horner said that day.

And from Wolff, “What started as Olympic boxing became professional boxing and now MMA. Gloves are off. ”

But Verstappen was leading the standings by 14 points at the time of that encounter, held two days before Hamilton clinched his second of three straight wins – a streak that delivered the title before the finale. Sunday. This is the first time since 1974 that tied candidates will enter the final race.

Hamilton, winner of four consecutive titles, used the last three races to pull within reach of breaking ties with Michael Schumacher with a record eighth F1 championship. Verstappen, the winner of this season’s best nine races streak, is looking to become the first Dutch world champion.

“You know, who would have thought we would be here this season with a shot outside winning this trophy? Being attached to Lewis has been a great journey, a great championship,” said Horner. “No one has come close to the (Mercedes) test in the past eight years. It was stressful, it was frustrating at times, we pushed the limit, we pushed each other, we pushed our competitors, and here we are on the final lap of the competition. . It’s almost like ‘The Ink Game.’ “


Suitable for Horner to refer to a popular Netflix series. The streaming giant made the critically-acclaimed Horner a star through its F1 docuseries “Drive To Survive”. The Netflix show has been described by F1 insiders as the greatest thing to happen to the global racing series in decades because of the show’s behind-the-scenes access to F1 drivers and teams.

Although F1 is considered the most popular form of motorsport in the world, it has struggled to gain a strong foothold in North America. Its popularity in that region has now exploded thanks to Netflix.

This racing season won’t air until 2022, but the title showdown is the closest and most dramatic since 1976, when James Hunt defeated Niki Lauda – the battle featured in the blockbuster year of the year. 2013 by Ron Howard “Rush”.

Hamilton has had tough fights before, including a 2008 showdown with Felipe Massa, who won the season finale in his home country of Brazil and believes he won the title by passing. the finish line. His team burst into celebration when they were nearly 40 seconds behind Hamilton.


But with a fifth-place finish on the final lap, Hamilton won his first championship by a single point.

It was shaping up to be another stellar finish in Abu Dhabi, where Verstappen was the fastest in Friday’s first practice and Hamilton caught on in the second.

“The only chance we have to win this championship is to beat Lewis, and we want to do that on the track,” Horner said Friday.

F1 race director, Michael Massi, in his regular event note addressed to all competitors reminded the teams of the rules regarding sporting conduct and the possible penalties. It is believed to be a direct message to Red Bull and Verstappen, who have been criticized this season for extreme driving behavior and were accused by Hamilton last week in Saudi Arabia of overtaking. limit.

Verstappen of Abu Dhabi insists he is the target of managers and is treated harsher than his other rivals. Both Wolff and Horner were asked by the Associated Press on Friday whether Verstappen had been targeted, and Horner removed his mask in response.


Verstappen boss Horner said: “Sometimes I think he’s been treated harshly, and I think he’s been put under close supervision that we haven’t seen consistently applied. “He’s competing with the seven-time world champion and I think the accusations about his driving, about his driving style, about his driving standards, has a story that’s been given to cause havoc. pressure on him.

“Max drives in a way that ignites passion, has brought new fans into the sport this year, and we don’t want him to change. We wanted him to drive in the same way that he brought him to the brink of competing for the world championship with us.”

Wolff declined to say specifically about “the incident or the driving itself”, but suggested that Verstappen’s stance was his own perception.

“And that will affect the way you think and the way you see the world,” says Wolff. “We are also influential in having the clearest view of things and that is obviously different for Red Bull, but that’s okay. You just have to admit that they see it through their glasses and have opinions and we see it through our glasses and the managers have a very hard job to stay neutral and bring make decision. ”



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Huynh Nguyen

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