Lewis Hamilton vs. Max Verstappen Can’t Match Their Formula 1 Principals’ Sparring in Qatar: ‘Elbows Are Allowed Now Because the Rules Say So, and the Gloves Are Off’

Article Highlights:

  • Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are waging an intense but civil battle for the Formula 1 crown
  • Team executives for Mercedes and Red Bull have stepped up their verbal jousting
  • Verstappen held a slight advantage over Hamilton in early practice at the Qatar Grand Prix

Does it get any better than the Sunday clashes between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in Formula 1 racing? No, but that’s not to say that Toto Wolff and Christian Horner aren’t trying their best to match mad driving skills with bad feelings.

Wolff and Horner are the principals at the Mercedes team and Red Bull Racing, respectively. They’re fighting tenaciously in support of their guys, and it is decidedly entertaining to watch them ratchet up the rhetoric at the same time the drivers are maintaining decorum.

Lewis Hamilton vs. Max Verstappen has been great viewing

Team executives Toto Wolff of Mercedes and Christian Horner of Red Bull talk in the paddock during previews ahead of the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Australia at Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit on March 12, 2020. | Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

The World Drivers’ Championship is officially down to a two-man competition, though it seemed inevitable from the start that Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen were the only drivers who mattered.

Verstappen, the young challenger, leads Hamilton by a 9-6 margin in victories with three races to go. However, his lead in points is down to 332.5-318.5 after Hamilton, the seven-time Formula 1 series champion, triumphed last week in Sao Paulo in a performance that may contend for Hamilton’s finest F1 victory ever.

The rivals have collided twice this season. In the first instance, Hamilton knocked Verstappen out of the British Grand Prix and won on his home track. Four races later in Monza, Italy, the Dutch star literally drove his car onto the Mercedes, knocking both men out of the race. If not for the titanium Halo above and behind him, Hamilton could have been crushed.

The five races since have been thick with drama, with each man winning twice.

Hamilton may well need to sweep the final three races, beginning Sunday with the Qatar Grand Prix. But given the craziness already on exhibit this season, that could change in the blink of an eye.

The bosses are engaging in a war of words

There are millions of dollars at stake based upon standings for the 10 two-car teams in Formula 1, and Mercedes holds a 521.5-510.5 edge over Red Bull. But it is Lewis Hamilton vs. Max Verstappen that has top team officials sparring. Toto Wolff and Christian Horner went at each other again on Friday in Qatar, The Associated Press reported.

“It’s the world championship of the highest category in motor racing,” said Wolf, the Mercedes team principal, “and what started as Olympic boxing went to pro boxing and is now MMA. Elbows are allowed now because the rules say so, and the gloves are off. Nothing else is to be expected.”

He made the comments as the FIA was denying Mercedes’ bid to revisit the decision not to penalize Verstappen for running Hamilton off the course in Sao Paulo as the British star attempted to take.

“I think it’s the first time they’ve been challenged. It’s interesting to see how people react under pressure, how they react when they are challenged,” said Horner, Red Bull’s top racing executive. “It’s by far the most intense political title fight we’ve been involved in in this sport.”

Horner acknowledged Mercedes’ domination during the Hamilton era, but he isn’t into worship.

“I don’t need to go to dinner with Toto. I don’t need to kiss his (butt) or anything like that. There’s a few other team principles that might,” Horner said. “Toto and I are very different characters, and we operate in very different ways. Am I going to be spending Christmas with Toto? Probably not.”

Said Wolff: “You cannot expect that you’re going to dinner with your rival or with a rival team or your enemy in sporting competition, irrespective of personalities and the characters.”

Max Verstappen holds the early edge over Lewis Hamilton in Qatar

Friday’s opening Formula 1 practice in Qatar took place in the daytime heat, though Sunday’s race starts at dusk. Max Verstappen topped everyone on the 3.5-mile circuit with a fast lap of 1 minute, 23.723 seconds, with Pierre Gasly next at 1:24.160. Mercedes teammates Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton followed at 1:24.194 and 1:24.509, respectively.

The second practice was tighter, with Bottas prevailing in 1:23.148, followed by Gasly at 1:23.357. Verstappen held off Hamilton for third place by a 1:23.498 to 1:23.570 margin. Four other drivers also came in under 84 seconds.

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