Christian Horner and Toto Wolff speak on how it is tough to tackle when the F1 title fight is within the team between the teammates.
Only five races into the 2023 F1 campaign and its beginning to look like an intra team battle between the man looking for his third title on the bounce, Max Verstappen and a driven who is now in his 13th season, Sergio Perez.
Red Bull are dominating proceedings with Verstappen accumulating three wins to two from Perez. We have been here before where there has been wholesale domination, one thinks back to the glory days of McLaren in 1984 where they won 12 of the 16 Grands Prix with Alain Prost taking seven and Niki Lauda winning five and also winning the title.
Then in 1988, it was even greater with McLaren winning 15 from 16 and Ayrton Senna winning his first title. More recently, we have the Mercedes monopoly with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. The sport has always had teams where one driver in the end will be needed to be favoured over the other so as not to lose out to a third party.
But even at this stage of the season it looks like it is Red Bull’s season to lose. The last time Horner had to manage a driver relation was between Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo briefly but in a major way was between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.
At the same time, Wolff had most recently a certain handling of Hamilton and Rosberg. It is a tricky situation where the favour falls on one, not always out of ‘love’ for one but more due to the championship situation and the advantage that one driver has over the other.
The team championship is preferred, but the headlines are made by drivers’ title. “I can tell you from my past, it’s a super tricky job for Christian and the team, because both drivers will obviously try to always feel that they’re fairly and equally treated, whilst at the same time, trying to have an advantage,” said Wolff.
“And I think in our team, it was important to maintain a lot of transparency and clarity, discuss things before we actually go racing on a Sunday. Put boundaries. And, at the end, both drivers, even with Nico and Lewis, respected the team’s opinion, whilst we acknowledge that they have a fight between the two of them”.
“So going back in time, there’s things I probably would have done differently in 2016, particularly, but the balance right between accepting these two guys are racing for a championship, and it’s within the same garage. And at the same time, they are part of a larger structure. I think that is not always easy, because they are very competitive animals,” summed up Wolff.
His F1 rival Horner started off with a joke, but concurred with Wolff on handling two drivers at the either side of the garage. “We just do everything Toto says but just a bit better,” he joked. “No, look, I think that it’s a luxury problem, first of all. Wow, I think any team principal in the pit lane would hope to have that issue”.
“And it’s something we’ve experienced before. And I think the most key thing is, as Toto was mentioning, is to ensure that paranoia doesn’t creep in and that both drivers are treated equally. You go to pains to provide equality, to the point of who drives out the garage first each weekend, you know, it alternates. It even alternates in the debrief who talks first”.
“But you know, it’s racing is Formula 1, and occasionally something will happen like a Safety Car or a pit stop and you can’t control every aspect within the sport. There are still variables. And I think so long as the drivers know that they’re both getting an equal chance and it’s ultimately down to what they do on the circuit, that’s where you want it to play out, not through reliability, for example, to play a key role in a championship fight between your two drivers within your own team,” summed up Horner.
The bottom line for Verstappen and Perez, there will be equality and fairness for the two parties. You can bet though that both will look to gain a distinct advantage if at all possible over the other. At this stage of the campaign, it still looks like it is heading in the right direction for the Dutchman but the Mexican really has nothing to lose.
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