Christian Horner wants to see more aggressive rivalry between team-mates in Formula One and says Lewis Hamilton’s jousting with Nico Rosberg at Mercedes is extremely mild when placed beside the enmity that existed between his former drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber a few years ago.
As the Red Bull team principal prepared for the opening race of the season here this weekend, he said: “In sport we need more that’s taking it to an extreme. One of the reasons for watching Ayrton Senna against Alain Prost was because you knew those two guys hated each other.
“Likewise when Nigel Mansell was racing, and the battles he had with Nelson Piquet. There was real needle there.”
However, Horner has not been impressed by the internecine warring at Mercedes. “We have seen just one cap thrown in three years. That’s it,” he said.
There is clearly more friction between Hamilton and Rosberg than Horner concedes. Their rivalry reached its low point in Spa in 2014 when Rosberg ran into the back of Hamilton’s car, ending the British driver’s race. Rosberg had appeared even more culpable in Monaco that year when he won pole after blocking Hamilton’s attempt to improve on his time.
After that Hamilton, speaking about his once close friend, said: “I can count my friends on one hand. I am sure Nico can do the same. I am not in his five and he is not in my five.”
The relationship appeared to be smoother last year but sparked again in Austin, where Hamilton won his third world title after an aggressive move on Rosberg. This year, according to Mercedes, the drivers will have more freedom to race each other.
The friction between Vettel and Webber at Red Bull a few years ago was much, much worse, according to Horner. He said: “There was intense rivalry between the two of them. Probably less with Sebastian because he had the upper hand over Mark. Anything Mark could do to get under Sebastian’s skin, he would try and do. That was part of the gamesmanship of two competitive guys.
“There were hundreds of things. Whether it was taking his headphones off in a debrief because he could and didn’t value anything Sebastian said as important, despite desperately trying to understand what was being said.
“Or even both drivers not showing their hand during qualifying, during Q1 or Q2, because they knew the team’s policy was one of transparency of information. So they did not want to show what gear they were in or what their braking point was until the last run in Q3.
“From a team’s point of view you’d be going through in Q2 in fifth or sixth position and thinking ‘we are out here’ and then when you get to that last set of tyres – bang, they’d go for it. There was all different types of gamesmanship. At Mercedes they have a milder version of it.”
Vettel won in Malaysia in 2013 after ignoring team orders not to pass Webber. And there was worse in Istanbul in 2010 when a furious Horner opened an inquest after his drivers crashed into each other when set for a one-two finish.
But now, asked whether he would tolerate one of his drivers punching his team-mate, Horner replied: “As long as they keep their helmets on. It depends on what one it is. I would either congratulate him or reprimand him, depending on who it was!”
Horner said he had no regrets about not signing Hamilton when the driver was unhappy at McLaren four years ago. He said: “It would have been impossible to accommodate Lewis and Sebastian in the team, and with Sebastian we went on to achieve a huge amount. So there are no regrets. At the time it did not work out. It was one of those things. Lewis has gone on to achieve some phenomenal things in another environment. The cream always does rise to the top.”
Many people think Hamilton will move to Ferrari at the end of his Mercedes career. But Horner believes fans will be denied what they really want to see – a head-to-head between Hamilton and Vettel in the same team.
“I would be amazed to see the two of them both sitting in the same team. From a team point of view it is difficult to envisage that scenario. You would have one driver who is elated and one who is pissed off.”
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