Red Bull chief makes fresh Lewis Hamilton dig as Max Verstappen set Mercedes challenge

Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner has taken a fresh dig at Lewis Hamilton, insisting that a “large percentage” of Mercedes’ dominance is because of their car rather than the seven-time world champion’s driving ability. Horner meanwhile insists Red Bull and Max Verstappen must be more consistent from race to race to end the Silver Arrows’ Formula One monopoly.

Mercedes have won all of the last seven Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships and before even unveiling their W12 challenger for 2021 are major favourites to claim both titles yet again.

Hamilton is seeking a fifth straight title to move on to eight and overtake Ferrari great Michael Schumacher as the outright most successful driver of all time.

Verstappen though will harbour hopes of thwarting the Mercedes driver and ended the 2020 season strong with victory at the calendar-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The 23-year-old finished on the podium in 11 of the 12 races he completed last year, suffering five DNFs which ultimately denied him the chance to finish above Valtteri Bottas in the driver’s standings, having to settle for third.

Both Hamilton and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff have spoken of Red Bull’s threat for 2021 as the Austrian drinks giant look to win their first titles since 2013.

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The Milton Keynes-based outfit have posed an inconsistent championship threat in recent seasons, with Bottas finishing second to the supreme Hamilton in both 2019 and 2020.

Horner says he does not know when Red Bull will truly be able to challenge Mercedes every single week but hopes 2021 can be the year they do so, with Sergio Perez joining Verstappen after a fine campaign for Racing Point (now Aston Martin) last year.

And he made sure to get a dig in at Hamilton, insisting the world champions’ dominance is borne from their car rather than Hamilton’s racecraft. 

“Mercedes were so dominant last year. That DNA is probably the large percentage, obviously, of their current car,” Horner said.

“We demonstrated in Abu Dhabi that they are beatable at a track that they’ve been unbeaten at the previous six or seven years.

“We just need to be able to do that on a consistent basis across the 22 or 23 races. I think that we are gathering momentum.

“We need a car that performs at a whole variety of circuits, which Mercedes have been very good at producing. That’s where we need to be strong next year.

“We’ve got to be strong on all types of circuit, particularly with a 23 race calendar. Nobody has a crystal ball, it’s impossible to sit here and predict. We’ve just got to focus on each race at a time, get the most out of it we can.

“Make sure that we do the best job we can with the new regs for 2022 within the confines of the regulations. And then we’ll see. It’s impossible to have a crystal ball to say.”

Speaking last year, Horner claimed that George Russell’s impressive stand-in performance at the Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain proved that Mercedes’ success is due to their machinery, not the drivers.

“Max and Lewis stand out for me, but although we should definitely not be blind to what Hamilton has achieved, he does have a good package at his disposal,” added Horner.

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“That while Max has to get more out of his car. At Mercedes, a Williams driver can qualify himself directly on the front row and Russell almost won the race.

“However, if at Red Bull someone had to get into Verstappen’s car, for example if Max had corona, nobody would reach his level.

“His [Verstappen’s] qualifying performances are of an exceptional level and his race craft is excellent, just like his tyre management.

“Max has become better at ‘reading’ the race, giving feedback to the team, but also dealing with disappointment, for example. He has matured very much in those areas.”

Wolff however hit back last month: “You can only compare a driver if they are in the same car.

“We haven’t seen Hamilton race against Russell, so you can’t judge that. We also haven’t seen Charles Leclerc in a top car. I have a high opinion of Sergio Perez and I am curious how he compares to Verstappen.”

Asked if the Dutchman has reached his peak, Horner declared: “No, I don’t think so. The others have a hard time compared to Max’s performance.

“If you look at his performance in Abu Dhabi, his pole was phenomenal and then he controlled the race in a very mature way from start to finish.”

The upcoming 2021 F1 season gets underway at the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 28, with pre-season testing commencing at the same circuit across March 12-14.

Mercedes will meanwhile unveil their W12 car on March 2 with Red Bull launching their challenger much earlier, on February 23.

Red Bull recently confirmed that they had secured a deal with Honda to run with the Japanese company’s power units until 2024.

The manufacturer will leave F1 at the end of 2021 but Red Bull, and AlphaTauri, will continue to use their technology having formed a new company, Red Bull Powertrains Limited, to oversee the project.

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