There is a very distinct difference in the way Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner has been speaking about his team’s closest competitors. This year, he is singing praises for Scuderia Ferrari and championship leader Charles Leclerc, but he had been icy and oftentimes abrasive against Mercedes.
Formula 1 fans bore witness to the conflicts between Horner and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff throughout the past few years. It was Mercedes that broke Red Bull’s dominance in the Sebastian Vettel era, and the Silver Arrows held the top spot for seven straight years afterwards via six titles for Lewis Hamilton and a lone championship for Nico Rosberg.
In 2021, Mercedes did secure an eight straight Constructors’ Championship title, but Red Bull’s Max Verstappen snatched the Drivers’ title away from Hamilton. It was an intense battle that lasted all the way up to the final lap of the last race in Abu Dhabi. As the battle heated up, the relationship between the two teams also deteriorated in plain sight.
This season, things have changed dramatically, with Ferrari finding a renaissance of sorts. Red Bull is keeping up with the pace, but Mercedes is clearly far behind.
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen won the first two events of the season respectively, and both races saw intense on-track battles between the two drivers. However, despite swapping the lead numerous times and racing wheel-to-wheel, the battles have been clean and respectful from both sides.
In a stark contrast to last season, there was not much whining and complaining coming from the pit walls. The worst of it was perhaps when second Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz complained about Red Bull’s Sergio Perez passing him while under the safety car as he was leaving the pit lane. Otherwise, there appears to be a genuine mutual respect coming from both sides, at least for now.
“I think you’re seeing two fantastic young drivers that have raced each other probably from when they were about 10 or 11 going head to head in two very competitive Formula 1 cars. The racing in these first two races has been phenomenal,” said Horner while speaking to Sky Sports about Verstappen and Leclerc.
He then went on to point out the clean battles between the two drivers. “You can see there’s a respect between the two of them and these cars seem to be easier to follow and race each other with. The sample from the first two races has been really exciting,” he said.
Last year, Horner did not hesitate to find something to protest about with Mercedes in every race. Both sides accused each other of various things, with Wolff often complaining about Verstappen’s aggressive and “dangerous” driving style.
It is still early in the season, but so far things have been quite amicable between the two front-running teams. “Racing Ferrari is always slightly different. They’re such a long-standing team in Formula 1 and it’s not perhaps some of the animosities that had grown between our other rivals,” Horner said, adding, “They’re a great team, they’ve got great drivers.”
Things may start to change as we go deeper into the season and battles become more intense. As seen last year, every point counts. Once Horner sees that there is a real threat to Verstappen’s title defence, he may not be as friendly towards the Italians.