Wolff denied ‘drinks company’ comments

Toto Wolff and Christian Horner shake hands in Abu Dhabi

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has rejected Christian Horner’s suggestion that he views Red Bull as a drinks company, not a Formula 1 team.

Wolff and Horner have been embroiled in a war of words throughout much of the 2021 season, as the on-track battle between their squads spills off-track.

That saw a feisty press conference featuring the two team principals at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, though that has been somewhat tempered this weekend.

On Friday, the duo again fronted the world’s press, though were far more cordial – without the snide remarks that peppered the session in Jeddah.

Indeed, the pair twice shook hands as they sat either side of the world championship trophy.

However, individually, Horner has remained at least somewhat antagonistic, suggested Wolff views his team as nothing more than a drinks company.

“I never said that,” asserted Wolff following qualifying.

“I don’t know where that comes from, but it’s not something that I said.

“And I would not say it because I have all the respect for Red Bull as a drinks company and all the respect for the racing team.

“That’s why I reached out to him, because I felt we should be going into the race without any animosity.”

Heading into the event, Horner had suggested that Red Bull had been targeted by what he termed Mercedes’ “media machine”.

“I think the Mercedes Formula One team have become a machine in the last seven or eight years during their period of dominance and obviously have the weight and power of the parent company behind them,” he said.

“I can’t believe it’s particularly comfortable being beaten by an energy drinks manufacturer.”

While Wolff rejected that notion, he took further issue with the implication that Mercedes had been waging a media war against its world championship rivals.

“I don’t know why he’s making that up,” Wolff said.

He went on to tell a joke about a driver, careering down the highway on the wrong side of the road.

“The radio gives a warning and said ‘attention, attention on Highway 2, there is a Ghost Driver,” he recited.

“The guy who drives in the opposite direction says ‘One? There’s hundreds of them’.”

It was Wolff’s way of suggesting that the perceived barrage against Red Bull was not the result of Mercedes waging war with a media machine, but the sheer weight of critics of Red Bull.

“So I think it’s the media machine, or it’s everybody who commented on the driving it was pretty much the same opinion.”

Mercedes heads into Sunday’s race in a comfortable position at the top of the constructors’ championship, with a 28-point buffer to Red Bull.

It’s level pegging in the drivers’ standings, with Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen tied on 369.5 points and set to share the front row.

They’ll do so on different compound tyres, offering a strategic difference from the outset, in what effectively amounts to a winner-take-all race for the world drivers’ title.

Verstappen’s pole lap came as something of a shock, Hamilton having looked to hold the upperhand through the three practice sessions which preceded it.

But while failing to secure top spot, Wolff was magnanimous in the Saturday defeat.

“They were the quicker car today,” he admitted.

“Absolutely take that on the chin for all of us; 1-0 for them, and let’s see what it is tomorrow.”

While Mercedes looks set to claim its eighth constructors’ title, success for Hamilton would see him also claim an eighth crown.

In doing so, it would move him clear of Michael Schumacher’s tally of seven titles, marking him out as statistically the most successful driver in world championship history.

It would also hand the team a clean sweep of the current turbo-hybrid era, which began in 2014, with the Anglo-German marque to date have claimed both drivers’ and constructors’ honours in every year of this regulation set.

Red Bull meanwhile is gunning for its first world championship win since 2013, when Sebastian Vettel claimed the last of his four successive crowns with the Milton Keynes-based squad.

Though tied on points, Verstappen technically heads the points standings heading into the 58-lap encounter by virtue of his nine wins to Hamilton’s eight.

Should the race end with the pair still tied, the Dutchman would be champion.

More likely however is that whichever of the two contenders finishes ahead would win – unless Hamilton were ninth and Verstappen tenth, and in possession of the point for fastest lap (which would result in a tie).

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix gets underway at midnight AEDT tonight.

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