Horner criticises Wolff over Verstappen comments

Formula 1
Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Formula 1, Red Bull, Mercedes, Chinese Grand PrixGetty Images

Toto Wolff has again discussed the prospect of signing Max Verstappen for next season, saying “everyone is waiting to see what he is going to do”.

But Red Bull team principal Christian Horner criticised Wolff, asking why the Dutch driver would leave his team to drive for struggling Mercedes.

Wolff said: “There are so many factors that play a role for a driver joining.

“Clearly, from the most rational point of view, that’s the quickest car in the hands of the quickest driver,” he said.

“But I don’t think this is the only reason you stay where you are.”

Wolff alluded to the ongoing controversy around allegations involving Horner, who a female employee has accused of sexual harassment and controlling behaviour.

Horner has always denied the allegations. An internal Red Bull inquiry cleared the 50-year-old in February, but the woman has appealed and a second internal inquiry is under way. She has also lodged her case with a UK employment tribunal, which is expected to hear her complaint next year.

Wolff said: “For simple minds, [performance] might be the only reason you stay in a car. But maybe there is more depth to some people that considers other factors, too, and Max has more depth.

“In that respect, are we able to convince him? It is not a matter of convincing.

“Max knows motor racing better than anyone and he will take decisions that he feels are good for him. A few factors play a role but he’s the one who is going to trigger some more domino stones to fall afterwards, but everyone is waiting to see what he is going to do.”

Wolff said Verstappen and his management team – comprising his father, the ex-F1 driver Jos Verstappen and manager Raymond Vermeulen – would decide on his future based on a holistic view of the situation, and said the chassis and engine regulation changes for 2026 would also be a factor.

“It is a question of how they feel the future, how they feel where the future is best for them, considering a lot of factors,” Wolff said.

“We are in a very good position for 2026. We are ambitious with the targets we set ourselves for the power units, batteries and fuel and if we are able to produce a decent chassis, we are a good-value proposition, but who knows.”

But after another difficult race for Mercedes, in which George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finished sixth and ninth, Horner was dismissive of Wolff’s comments.

He said Verstappen, who is contracted to Red Bull to the end of 2028, was unavailable, adding: “Why would you want to leave this team? Mercedes are third team behind their customers [McLaren and Aston Martin]. His time would be better spent perhaps focusing on the team rather than the driver market.

“I can assure you that there is no ambiguity about where Max Verstappen will be next year.”

Asked about his future in Shanghai on Thursday, Verstappen said: “I signed a long-term deal with the team. The only thing I said from the beginning is we want to have a peaceful environment. Lately we have been talking about the car. I am happy about that. I am happy with the team and there has never been a reason to leave.”

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