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Toto Wolff vs Christian Horner

Much of the focus for this season has been on the ongoing battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, which has been dramatic and closely fought. However, the off-track battle between team principals Toto Wolff and Christian Horner has been endlessly fascinating and insightful. In recent weeks the tension in both camps has been very publicly evident, often spilling over the edge of what you would normally expect from Toto and Christian in race weekend interviews.

Battle of the team principals

The war of words escalated following comments from Lewis Hamilton in early May during the Spanish Grand Prix, suggesting the “bendy” rear wing of the Red Bull car gave them a significant advantage in the region of six tenths of a second per lap. Video footage emerged demonstrating the bending of the rear wing at high speeds, significantly reducing the drag and allowing for higher top speeds, then bending back into place at lower speeds to maximise downforce during cornering. Wolff was highly critical of the FIA’s handling of the controversy by implementing a new directive on the rigidity of rear wings to be introduced by the French Grand Prix scheduled for the middle of June. Wolff was frustrated that the rear wing advantage for Red Bull would still be in play during some critical races, in particular the Azerbaijan race at Baku, known for having a mix of corners that require high levels of downforce and long straights that benefit from low downforce. 

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Christian Horner countered those claims with a robust defense throughout the build up to the Azerbaijan race, saying “there would be equal scrutiny given to Mercedes’ front wing”. Horner went on to say whilst talking to Sky Sports pundits, “I think if I was Toto with the front wing he’s got on his car, I’d keep my mouth shut”.

 

Toto Wolff responded in an interview just before the qualifying session in Baku, saying “Christian is a bit of a windbag who wants to be on camera. It’s easy to be punchy when you’re on top of the timesheets but you should be a little bit more modest”.

 

The strain in the relationship between the principals of the current two top teams in FORMULA 1 is clear for all to see. If those are the comments made in public during interviews watched by thousands, then we can only imagine what is said behind closed doors. Let’s not forget that Christian and Toto will frequently need to be present during a number of meetings with the likes of the FIA and various bodies to discuss FORMULA 1 matters and strategy, not only acting on behalf of their team, but to also represent FORMULA 1 to ensure the sport is unified and heading in the right direction for the benefit of all teams. Conflict and tension during these meetings will not serve or represent the sport in the best way.

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Team principals are the public head of their organisations and should, in theory, set the tone, culture and public perception of their team. They should lead by example. Insult slinging towards other teams is not a great look, despite generating a lot of attention and press coverage that may be good for sponsors hoping for any air time.

 

It will be interesting to see if the public mudslinging continues further into the season as the battle for the championship hots up. The Mercedes team are narrowly clinging on to their position as the top team in FORMULA 1, despite trailing Red Bull by more than twenty points in the constructors standings after the first six races have been completed. Much will depend on how the teams develop their car as the new rear wing directive comes into play, and whether the focus of attention switches to the front wing flex later in the season. Let’s hope the on-track battle continues to be as closely fought and gripping throughout the rest of the season. Let’s also hope Toto and Christian remain calm and composed and their comments towards each other are a little more sporting.