In a stunning turn of events after Verstappen secured the pole position for the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, his 1.3-second edge over the seventh-fastest Perez stirred up unexpected comments from Mercedes boss Wolff. Describing the gap as “odd” and “bizarre”, he raised eyebrows in the racing industry.
Adding fuel to the fire, Wolff stated that Verstappen “destroyed every single team-mate,” suggesting this is an upshot of his “ability to create a car around himself that is very tricky to control but fast if you can”. This has led to a suspicion that throughout 2023, Red Bull has actively shaped the RB19 to fit Verstappen’s driving style, and thereby disadvantaged Perez in the process.
Turning the tables just ahead of the Italian GP at Monza this weekend, the two-time defending champion Verstappen brushed off the idea of a tailor-made car as “bulls***.” Without mincing words, he declared that he always drives the assigned car in the fastest way he knows, without making personal requests for more front-end control. Every car is unique, he said, and he adapts to what is necessary for speed.
When F1 Initiative sought to clarify the gap between his two drivers in light of Wolff’s comments, Horner came to Verstappen’s defense. He lambasted the Mercedes boss for his “total lack of understanding” of how a race car and team progress, and agreed completely with his driver. According to Horner, a race car’s development doesn’t orbit around a single driver.
In his view, when teams develop a car, they aim for maximum speed – a tricky endeavor which inadvertently results in difficult cars, a common historical occurrence. Good drivers are those who can adapt – especially in a variety of conditions, from wet to mixed. They are the true elite, he stressed.
Particularly, in Verstappen’s case, Horner praised his driver’s ability to adjust to the way the car behaves and to the different grip or control it provides. He was emphatic in denying any directionality in their approach to accommodate just one driver. Instead, their goal remains to design and build the quickest possible car using their tools and simulations, and insights from their wind tunnel.
To explain Verstappen’s affinity with the RB19, Horner posited that Verstappen was simply masterfully using the “tools within the car to vary his style”.