Christian Horner chides Toto Wolff over Max Verstappen

Two of Formula 1’s most prominent figures are at it again.

By that we mean Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner, and his counterpart at Mercedes Toto Wolff.

The latest verbal scrap comes in the wake of the Chinese Grand Prix, which saw Max Verstappen cruise to his fourth grand prix victory of the season. While Red Bull was able to put a pair of drivers on the podium, as Sergio Pérez finished third behind McLaren driver Lando Norris, Mercedes needed a bit of luck to secure just a double-points finish. George Russell started inside the top ten and managed to finish sixth, but teammate Lewis Hamilton started at the back of the grid after a stunning Q1 exit. Some retirements, coupled with a strong stint in the closing stages, saw Hamilton climb to a P9 finish.

Following the race Wolff spoke at length to the media, about not only the team’s current struggles with the W15, but also the future lineup at Mercedes. That is often a popular topic given Hamilton’s impending exodus at the end of the season which will see him drive for Ferrari next year.

As he has done before, Wolff raised the idea of Verstappen in the silver and black.

“There are so many factors that play a role for a driver joining and clearly when you look at it from the most rational point of view, you could say that’s the quickest car in the hands of the quickest driver,” said Wolff as reported by Sky Sports. “But I don’t think this is the only reason you stay where you are. I think for let’s say, simple minds, that might be the only reason you stay in the car and that’s it, but maybe there are more depths for some people that consider other factors too, and I think Max has depth.”

Wolff went on to note that a decision from Verstappen is what the grid is waiting for.

“In that respect are we going to even convince him? I don’t think Max needs convincing, I think Max knows motor racing better than anyone and will take decisions that he feels are good for him,” continued Wolff. “I think a few factors play a role but he’s the one that will trigger some more domino stones to trigger afterwards. Everyone is waiting on what he is going to do.”

Those comments came as a surprise to Wolff’s Red Bull counterpart, for reasons beyond the fact that Verstappen is under contract with Red Bull through 2028. As Horner noted in his own comments to the media — after being informed of Wolff’s Verstappen chatter — the driver has made it clear in recent weeks that he is not going anywhere.

And Horner made it clear that Wolff has other things to worry about than where Verstappen will be driving next year.

“When did he [Wolff] say that [about Verstappen]?” pondered Horner. “If you speak to Max and…it’s not about pieces of paper at the end of the day. We know he has a contract until the end of 2028. It’s about how he feels in the team and the relationship he has in the team and the way he’s performing.”

That’s when Horner dropped quite the verbal jab.

“I don’t think Toto’s problems are his drivers,” said Horner. “He has probably got other elements he needs to focus on, rather than focusing on drivers that are unavailable.”

That other element Horner is likely referring to is the Mercedes’ 2024 challenger, the W15. Even Wolff conceded following the Chinese Grand Prix that the W15 was “not an okay car,” given the team’s problems getting it into the optimal operating window.

Horner, however, was just getting started.

“I think sometimes it’s designed to create noise. We’ve moved ahead of the amount of races Mercedes have won in the modern era,” added Horner. “The team is in form, why on earth would you want to leave this team? Mercedes are behind the third team, behind their customer teams at the moment. His time would be better spent focusing on the team than the driver market.”

McLaren, who currently sit 44 points ahead of Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship standings, are a customer team of Mercedes. That means the same power unit in the W15 is in McLaren’s MCL38. Only McLaren, as Horner points out, is faring a bit better with that power unit at the moment.

Horner concluded his remarks with a final word on his champion driver.

“I can assure you that there’s no ambiguity as to where Max Verstappen will be next year.”

Speculation about Verstappen’s future grew following reports that the Red Bull driver does have an escape clause in his contract that allows him to leave the team should certain senior figures at Red Bull depart. When reports surfaced that Red Bull Senior Advisor Dr. Helmut Marko was facing an uncertain future — coupled with the investigation into alleged misconduct by Horner ahead of this season — the idea of Verstappen leaving Red Bull became at least a theoretical possibility.

And remarks by the driver’s father Jos Verstappen early in the season added even more fuel to that theoretical fire.

However, in recent weeks Verstappen has clarified his status with Red Bull, stating at the Australian Grand Prix that “I don’t think about any other thing because it’s pretty fixed where I’m at, and that’s also where I want to be.”

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