Toto Wolff and Christian Horner ramp up rivalry as Max Verstappen is cleared

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff admits he was unsurprised to see a right for review against Max Verstappen denied as the most thrilling Formula One title fight in years spilled over into a war of words with Red Bull boss Christian Horner

Lewis Hamilton took the chequered flag at the Brazilian Grand Prix last weekend to close the gap in the drivers’ championship to 14 points with three races remaining.

But Verstappen escaped punishment for running his rival off the road as they duelled for first position on lap 48.

Mercedes launched an appeal against the decision not to investigate the incident now that onboard camera footage has been released – but that has now been rejected by the FIA.

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In a statement explaining the decision, the FIA said: “The Stewards often must make a decision quickly and on a limited set of information.

“At the time of the decision, the Stewards felt they had sufficient information to make a decision, which subsequently broadly aligned with the immediate post-race comments of both drivers involved.”

Wolff, who spoke alongside his Red Bull counterpart Horner during a press conference on Friday at the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix, was not surprised to hear the news – which broke during the pair’s on screen tete-a-tete.

“It is completely expected,” he said.

“We wanted to trigger a discussion around it because it will probably be a theme in the next few races. We didn’t really think it would go any further.

“You fight for every single point, we don’t expect to gain anything to be honest, from the right of review, it is more about the principle and philosophy.

Horner believes the right to review had to be rejected to prevent complaints emerging from other teams over the lack of action taken by race officials.

“(It is) Obviously the right decision as it would open Pandora’s Box on other decision that happened at that race,” he said.

There has been plenty of bad blood between Wolff and Horner as the two look to mastermind title-winning seasons for their respective teams – but it ramped up a gear in the Gulf as Horner revealed the pair do not get on.

“There is no relationship. There is competition,” he said.

“We have worked hard to get into this position, this is the first time they have been challenged and it is interesting to see how people react when they are challenged – it is by far the most politically that we have been involved with in the sport.

“Relationships and respects are different things, there is respect for everything Mercedes have done, everything Lewis Hamilton has done.

“I don’t need to go to dinner with Toto, I don’t need to kiss his a**e or anything like that. It is a competition, it is great that we are in this position and fighting for the drivers championship and the constructors championship and it is the first time in seven years they have been challenged.

“The sport is a big winner out of this and I just hope we have a hard and fair fight between now and the end of the season.

“Toto and I are very different characters and operate in different ways. Am going to be spending Christmas with Toto? Probably not. Unless you’re in panto this year, I might take the kids.”

Wolff echoed the comments as he compared the title battle to getting into the ring with your opponent.

“Olympic boxing went to pro boxing and is now MMA,” he added as he discussed the growing battle between F1’s top two teams.

“But that is okay, we are in the ring now trying to do the best job possible. Elbows are allowed now because the rules so say so and the gloves are off.

“I think the competition is just too high, you cannot expect that you are going to dinner with rival or the rival team or your enemy in the sporting competition, irrespective of the personality and the characters, everything else would be not normal. It is as simple as it is.”

The ill-feeling continued as the debate surrounding the new-found pace of the Mercedes was also played out in front of the cameras.

Horner cast fresh doubt on the legality of the Mercedes, and was asked if Red Bull would be ready to launch an appeal process of their own.

“Would I protest? Yes, absolutely,” he said.

Toto and I are very different characters and operate in different ways. Am going to be spending Christmas with Toto? Probably not.

“If we believe the car is not in compliance, we will protest. The straight line speeds that we’ve seen in Mexico and in Brazil, I mean, I think everybody could see Brazil was not a normal situation.

“Yes, a new engine we know with Mercedes comes with increased performance. But when you have a 27 kilometre (per hour) difference, and you see marks on rear-end plates that have been marking up from wings that have been flexing.”

Earlier, Verstappen had landed the first jab between the duelling rivals on the track as the Dutchman topped the timing sheets at the close of first practice at the Losail International Circuit.

A time of one minute 23.723 seconds was enough to set the pace, with Hamilton down in fourth following a frustrating hour.

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Hamilton, sporting a rainbow flag on his helmet having called on F1 and other sportspeople to speak out about human rights issues in countries such as Qatar, then spent time on the track in the evening practice session.

Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was fastest in the session with a lap of one minute 23.148, as Verstappen came home third and Hamilton fourth.

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