Christian Horner believes Max Verstappen has been on the receiving end of a narrative which has been pushed to suggest the Dutchman is a dangerous racer – claiming Lewis Hamilton has used “every tool available” to heap pressure on his title rival.
The Red Bull driver goes into the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday locked level on points with reigning champion Hamilton.
Sunday’s race at the Yas Marina Circuit, therefore, is the battleground where the 2021 championship will be decided – although by virtue of winning more races this season, Verstappen would take the crown if neither driver finishes.
Verstappen’s driving style has been widely criticised, including by Hamilton, who labelled his rival “f****** crazy” after an incident at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix last weekend.
That has led to suggestions he could look to take Hamilton out of the race on Sunday to ensure his maiden world title, but Horner was bullish when asked if Verstappen – who was hit with two time penalties in Jeddah – is right to feel unfairly treated by race stewards and feels there has been an agenda to influence people against his driver.
“I think that on occasion he has been treated harshly, he has come under scrutiny that we haven’t seen applied consistently with other incidents and he feels aggrieved by that,” Horner said.
“I think the problem for Max is that the scrutiny is on him. He has the spotlight positioned on him, he is running at the front and competing against a seven-time world champion.
“He has had allegations about his driving, his driving style and driving standards – there has been a narrative pushed to put pressure on him. He has driven fantastically well all year.
“Lewis is a seven-time world champion, most successful of all time, has a standing within the sport. What he says carries a lot of weight.
“He has used every tool available to him to put Max under pressure this year, he is a competitive animal, you don’t become a seven-time world champion without being a competitor like he is.
“I believe, aided by the Mercedes media machine, a huge amount of pressure had been placed on Max. He is a young lad who does it with bravery, passion, skill and determination.
“He is just a guy living his dream, doing his job but is up against not only Lewis but a huge machine in Mercedes-Benz, all credit to him for the way he has handled it this year and hasn’t been drawn into it, he has just gone about it, hasn’t changed from Bahrain to Saudi.
“This ‘Mad Max’ scenario, calling him crazy, there has been a very clear narrative.”
Horner was further riled when asked for his opinion on F1 race director Michael Masi’s decision to remind drivers of the punishments for causing collisions during a race weekend.
Masi highlighted specific clauses in the FIA sporting code – reminding the racers that if anything untoward happened on track the protagonists could be punished with points deductions.
The most eye-catching point pulled out by Masi included: “The stewards may also decide to impose the following penalties: Suspension for one or more competitions, withdrawal of points for the championship, cup, challenge, trophy, series.”
While his Mercedes counterpart Toto Wolff said it was “very good” for Masi to give a reminder as a “good deterrent for everyone just to keep the racing clean”, Horner was of a different view.
He said: “It is one of 22 races, what is the difference between this race and Silverstone or Hungary?
“There has to be consistency of stewarding and penalties, that is the thing that drives people more mad than anything else, when there are perceived to be inconsistencies.
“I can see why Toto and Lewis, with the disadvantage with race wins, would be looking for that but nobody is going into this race saying it is going to end in a crash. Our focus is on trying to win this on track at the chequered flag.”