Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen may want to do their talking on track at this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix but their teams remain firmly entrenched in opposition as the verbal sallies continued to fly on Friday at the Hungaroring. After the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers clashed at the British Grand Prix, the tension of an already fiercely fought championship ratcheted up a level and neither teams nor drivers are clearly ready yet for a rapprochement.
On Thursday Red Bull’s request for a review into the drivers’ clash at Silverstone was rejected by the FIA stewards. The incident in which Verstappen was knocked out of the race in an 180mph crash after Hamilton clipped him attempting to pass at Copse left Red Bull furious, with their team principal, Christian Horner, accusing the world champion of dirty driving. The Dutch driver also blamed his Mercedes counterpart while Hamilton, although given a 10-second penalty for being predominantly at fault, bullishly insisted he would repeat the move again if given the chance.
By the time the stewards made their decision Mercedes had clearly had enough and on Thursday night issued a scathing statement condemning “a concerted attempt by the senior management of Red Bull Racing to tarnish the good name and sporting integrity of Lewis Hamilton”.
As the cars took to the track in Budapest on Friday the two team principals remained uncompromising as this spat ebbed and flowed again. Verstappen had repeatedly accused Hamilton of being disrespectful and the Mercedes principal, Toto Wolff, surely chose his words carefully as he explained the rationale behind the team’s Thursday statement.
“We wanted to bring a little bit of respect back to the discussion,” he said. “We understand emotions can run high and it is always a matter of perspective and perception but we felt that line was overstepped.
“Everybody needs to decide whether they want to apologise or not. We felt that the comments made during and after the race and in witness statements and in the meeting itself [with the stewards] were below the belt. But it’s not up to me nor would Lewis want to demand any apologies.”
Not that any are likely to be forthcoming. Horner emphatically denied that his team’s presentation to the stewards had been a personal attack on Hamilton but would not back down from the position he had held since Silverstone, that Hamilton had been at fault.
“I am entitled to an opinion on that incident, as is everybody else,” he said. “At the time emotions are running high. We had a driver that needed to be taken to hospital for precautionary checks after an accident that would have definitely knocked out your average human being. We have lost a car in its entirety under a budget cap environment for something the stewards didn’t deem to be Max’s fault. There is nothing personal about it but even a seven-time world champion can sometimes make mistakes or misjudgments.”
At this 11th meeting of the season, with Verstappen’s lead cut to eight points after his DNF, both drivers are aware of the small margins that may decide the title. Neither will be willing to cede any advantage and Horner acknowledged that further incidents between the two were all too likely.
“It’s inevitable that these two drivers are going to be starting within close proximity at potentially the remaining 12 or 13 races,” he said. “We have seen the outcome of this incident. I hope that doesn’t play a significant role in the outcome of the championship and in future races.”
The title is what matters but Hamilton may also pass some remarkable milestones this weekend. He can secure a 100th career victory should he take the flag at a circuit where he has a peerless record. With eight wins here, another on Sunday would make him the first driver to take nine at the same circuit.
On track there was tantalisingly little to choose between the two teams, with Mercedes enjoying the hot temperatures bringing their tyres up to speed. Verstappen was quickest in the morning session, six hundredths up on Valtteri Bottas’s Mercedes, with Hamilton in third just over a 10th down. In the afternoon Bottas led the timesheets, just two-hundredths in front of Hamilton and Verstappen two-tenths back in third, struggling with understeer.