Christian Horner has accused Mercedes of using a “concerted campaign” in an attempt to “discredit” the achievement of Max Verstappen after the Red Bull driver claimed his maiden Formula 1 world title, reports The Independent.
Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton to the race and overall victory at the season ending 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix under controversial circumstances.
It was an ending to a thrilling season-long title that led to an FIA investigation which brought significant changes to the sport’s in-race operation — including the removal of Masi from a role he had held since 2019.
However, Red Bull boss Horner believes that Mercedes’ complaints were part of an effort to diminish the achievement of first-time champion Verstappen.
“I felt what was going on behind the scenes over the Christmas period was a bit underhand,” Horner told The Mail on Sunday. “The pressure that was put on the FIA, the positioning, the pressure that was put on the race director, to try to discredit what we had achieved.
“The reality was Michael Masi didn’t break their own rules. Mercedes had all the same strategic options available that we did, they made a mistake strategically not pitting Lewis [Hamilton] at the virtual safety car but then expecting him to be able to defend on 44-lap-old tyres.
“He was always going to be massively exposed by the team electing to leave him out despite the fact he was questioning that call. At the point the decision was made to pit, it was entirely probable that all the lapped cars would be allowed to unlap and that the race would get going again because, looking at the size of the accident, it wasn’t a big accident.
“Mercedes hung him 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, and it is a tactic that has been employed by Mercedes in other championships as well.”