Christian Horner claimed the decision to appeal against Max Verstappen’s victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix which saw him crowned Formula One world champion was “a little bit desperate”.
The Red Bull driver stormed past title rival Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages of the season-ending race at the Yas Marina Circuit having benefited from a late safety car that bunched up the pack.
Hamilton appeared to be charging to glory, easily holding Verstappen at bay in the closing laps, only for a crash for the Williams of Nicholas Latifi to change the course of events.
Confusion reigned as under-fire race director Michael Masi changed his mind to allow lapped cars to pass the safety car – meaning Verstappen had a clear run at Hamilton in the final lap and on much faster tyres.
The Dutchman broke into tears as he crossed the line, professing his love for his team and sitting by his car after bringing it to a stop.
Mercedes immediately launched two appeals against the result, one against Verstappen for allegedly overtaking under a safety car and a second claiming a breach of rules regarding race restarts following a safety car period.
Both were dismissed after the two teams spent hours in the stewards’ office, Verstappen able to toast his title over four hours after crossing the finish line – albeit with Mercedes opting to lodge an intention to appeal against the call.
Asked if he understood the decision taken by Mercedes – who had a barrister present at the hearing – to launch their initial appeals, Red Bull team principal Horner replied: “It obviously felt a little bit desperate but we didn’t want it to finish in front of the stewards.
“We never wanted to end up in front of the stewards, there was obviously a lot of debate before the race.
“As it turns out it was obviously very different after the race, we don’t go racing with barristers and so on – it was a shame it ended up there but the stewards made the right call.
“We have talked about ‘let them race’, Niki Lauda was the guy who pushed hard for it and we’ve always talked about not finishing racing under safety cars, the race director in difficult circumstances made absolutely the right call and strategically we got it right.
“If they appeal, they appeal. We’ll fight them in the appeal court and then in the legal court after that if they were to go that route.”
Horner also admitted it had been a topsy-turvy day for the team after Hamilton had looked set to coast to the title at more than one point.
“It was an emotional roller coaster,” he said.
“It started with a bad start, Lewis making a great start and they had a bit more pace than us today.
“They elected to do a one-stop, we went onto the two-stop and then when Latifi crashed we elected to take another set of tyres.
“They got the race going again and Max had to make it count, he had one lap to do it and he nailed it. So the elation of that moment…and then obviously the summons start coming through for the safety car and another one for other stuff.
“It has been a tense couple of hours but hats off to the FIA and the stewards who I believe have made the right decisions today.”
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