Christian Horner takes fresh aim at Mercedes over Abu Dhabi reaction

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has once again aimed a dig at Mercedes over their response to the controversial finish to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton provided F1 fans with a championship battle for the ages in 2021. It was, however, clouded in controversy. Verstappen took the title on the last lap in Abu Dhabi, but there was anger from many fans over decisions made by race director Michael Masi.

The backdrop to the last race left fans gripped to their seats. The two teams, led by Horner and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, engaged in a series of heated arguments, exchanged comments to the press and made their feelings clear on a series of occasions.

There were also a series of on-track incidents. Verstappen and Hamilton collided at the British Grand Prix. Horner brandished Wolff a “control freak” and accused Hamilton of “dirty driving“.

Read: Toto Wolff aims huge dig at Jonathan Wheatley over Abu Dhabi finish

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Verstappen was deemed “predominantly to blame” for a turn one collision that saw his Red Bull land on top of Hamilton’s Mercedes in Italy. The stewards gave him a three-second grid penalty for the following race.

Then at the Brazilian Grand Prix, Verstappen appeared to force his rival off the track whilst in a battle for the lead. The FIA took the matter no further. However, many fans believe the Dutchman should have had a penalty.

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The Abu Dhabi protests of Mercedes

Following the controversial finish in Abu Dhabi, Mercedes launched several protests in conjunction with the sporting regulations. These related to two decisions made by Masi in the closing laps. This was when the race was under safety car conditions.

The Australian only allowed certain lapped cars to unlap themselves with two laps remaining in the race. However, Mercedes claimed, as per the sporting regulations, ‘any cars who have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car’.

They also made the separate protest based on another part of the code, which states that ‘once the last lapped car has passed the leader, the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap’. In Abu Dhabi, the safety car entered the pits on the same lap as the instruction for lapped cars to overtake. The race restarted with one racing lap remaining, during which Verstappen overtook Hamilton on new tyres.

They also claimed that Verstappen had overtaken under the safety car. However, that protest failed.

Read: “Shocking” footage shows conversations between Red Bull and Masi during Abu Dhabi finale

Mercedes eventually withdrew their protests. However, it was only on the basis that the FIA would create “clarity” over future rules.

In February, the FIA announced their decision to remove Masi as race director. His replacements are Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich.

Read: FIA announce new ‘VAR-style’ race direction after Masi removal

Christian Horner comments on Mercedes

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Horner has once again hit out at Mercedes for their reaction to the result.

He said: “Mercedes hung [Hamilton] out to dry a little bit by expecting him to be able to defend on 44-lap-old tyres.

“In the aftermath of that, there was a concerted campaign by our rivals to discredit our achievement, even to the point of the FIA prize giving. It is a tactic that has been employed by Mercedes in other championships as well.

“As for the idea that the result was influenced by the need for entertainment over sport, I don’t agree with that either.

“I don’t think the Drive to Survive director was sitting in race control saying, ‘We need this to finish now’. It has always been clear that it was never good to finish a race under a safety car and that every effort would be made to ensure that didn’t happen because it is the biggest anti-climax that sporting viewers can have.”

The 2022 F1 season begins with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 20.

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