Red Bull chief believes Max Verstappen-Lewis Hamilton rivalry could boil over
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says he anticipates Max Verstappen’s relationship with Lewis Hamilton will boil over as Formula One’s two biggest stars lock horns for the world championship.
Hamilton heads into Sunday’s Portuguese Grand Prix holding a slender one-point advantage over Verstappen with both drivers tasting victory at each of the opening two rounds.
A fortnight ago at a rain-hit Imola, a fast-starting Verstappen and Hamilton banged wheels at the opening corner causing the latter to run off the road.
While the two men enjoy a relatively warm relationship, Horner does not expect the niceties to last.
“Max and Lewis are the two standout drivers at the moment, and you have seen that in the opening two races of the year,” Horner told the PA news agency.
“Rivalries in sport have always been a big attraction, and sometimes a polarising thing, too, but everybody wants to see these two fighting it out, week in week out.
“You can see it got pretty close already in the first two races, so over a 23-race season at some point it wouldn’t be unpredictable to say something could happen between the two of them.
“Hopefully there is a respect in both directions. I certainly know Max respects what Lewis has achieved.”
Hamilton, 36, is bidding to become the first driver in history to win eight titles, and, on Saturday, he can chalk off another extraordinary feat in Portugal by sealing his 100th pole position.
Hamilton claimed his first in just his sixth attempt at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix. Remarkably, he now has 31 more poles than Michael Schumacher and a greater number than Jim Clark (33), Alain Prost (33) and Nigel Mansell (32) combined.
However, Verstappen will be out to delay Hamilton’s century party.
The two men were separated by just 0.143 seconds in Portimao on Friday as Hamilton bounced back from a poor opening practice session – at a track nicknamed the rollercoaster due to its undulation and fast-sweeping corners – to finish the day ahead of his Red Bull rival.
Hamilton has seen off the challenges from Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas to win four championships in a row, but is Verstappen, 23, primed to deal the Englishman his toughest challenge yet?
“That’s the plan,” added Horner. “Lewis has had an incredible career, he is the world’s most successful driver. Time moves on, but he is still at the top of his game.
“It is fantastic for the sport that there are two drivers of that calibre. There hasn’t been a sustained championship fight for several years now so if we can provide that, the biggest winner is Formula One.
“Hopefully we can give Max the right equipment to fight. I have no doubt that he is totally up for it.”
Horner oversaw Vettel and Red Bull become quadruple world champions between 2010 and 2013 but this is the first season since in which they have produced a car capable of fighting for top honours again.
He concluded: “It would be an enormous achievement to win the title.
“We had the years of building, we had the years of domination and then we have been the bridesmaids for the last seven years. Now, we want to take this fight to Mercedes.”