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Formula 1

‘We pale into insignificance’ – Red Bull’s underdog fixation

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

As the 2021 Formula 1 title fight reaches its conclusion Red Bull insists that it and its driver Max Verstappen are swimming against the tide in the battle with Mercedes.

Amid the scrutiny of Verstappen’s driving in his fight against Lewis Hamilton, especially after an incident-laden Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has criticised a perceived agenda against the world championship leader.

He’s also declared Verstappen “head and shoulders” the best driver of the season who deserves “all the credit” for still being in the title fight this season.

And Horner has played up the idea that Red Bull is the underdog on the team side.

Mercedes is one of the biggest automotive brands in the world, he says. And Red Bull? “We pale into insignificance in comparison.”

This could be interpreted many ways. It may be a rallying cry to fire the team up with an ‘us against the world’ mantra, an attempt to shift perceptions ahead of championship judgement day, or just an excuse in case Mercedes and Hamilton are the ones who prevail.

Is Red Bull disingenuous to claim this is a David vs Goliath situation?

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Italian Grand Prix Race Day Monza, Italy

“Well, not really,” insists Horner. “I mean, if you think of the size of Mercedes globally, they must be one of the biggest automotive companies in the world, the power that they wield with media around the world.

“We pale into insignificance in comparison. As Lewis Hamilton indeed called us, we’re just an energy drinks company going racing.

“Mercedes’ Formula 1 team, they’ve become a machine the last seven or eight years during the period of dominance, and obviously have the weight and power of the parent company behind them.

“I can’t believe it’s particularly comfortable being beaten by an energy drinks manufacturer as a major OEM and that’s never sat comfortably, we know that, that’s been made quite clear to us.

“We’re a team of racers, we’re going racing, we’ve got a phenomenal driver that’s driven his heart out this year. And it’s been intense on track and off track.

“I do think that the spotlight, even the narrative in the last week of this Mad Max scenario calling him crazy, there’s been a very clear narrative.”

Which, judging by this week’s comments, Horner has decided is best to attack head on by insisting the circumstances are such that any failure this weekend would be a heroic one for the team and its driver.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Spanish Grand Prix Race Day Barcelona, Spain

In a sense, he’s absolutely right. Whichever party fails to win the title this weekend will be able to reflect on the season with immense pride.

It’s been an incredible battle, the kind where both sides deserve to win but the nature of sport means that’s impossible.

What it hasn’t been is a one-sided fight. The two organisations are enormous. They have both used vast resources to get into a position where they could each produce cars capable of fighting for both world championships.

Which is why Mercedes clearly doesn’t buy into the idea Red Bull is some kind of nuisance punching above its weight.

“Christian would know the relative sizes of our two companies and would know that there’s there’s three teams in this sport that are fortunate enough to enjoy very similar resource and sort of capability, and that Red Bull and Mercedes are two of those three teams,” Mercedes chief technical officer James Allison told BBC Radio 5 Live this week.

“But while it hasn’t been David and Goliath, it has been a fantastic Clash of the Titans, because we are two of three big teams in the sport and it’s been absolutely breathtaking to be to be going at it hammer and tongs all year, right the way down to the last race of what has been an extremely enjoyable season.”

Both teams have pushed things to the limit this season and inevitably that means games in the media and the rhetoric they want people to buy into.

Whether you believe him or not, though, Horner clearly has no issue nailing his colours to the mast.

Especially when it comes to his stance on Verstappen – who it is clear thinks (along with Red Bull) a huge injustice has been served at times this season.

And Horner believes Mercedes and Hamilton must take some responsibility for that.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Preparation Day Abu Dhabi, Uae

“Lewis is the seven-time world champion, he’s the most successful driver of all time,” says Horner.

“He has a standing within the sport. What he says carries a lot of weight.

“He has used every tool available to him to put Max under pressure. And he’s a competitive animal. You don’t become a seven time world champion by not being a competitor like he is.

“And backed up by the Mercedes media machine, a huge amount of pressure has been placed on Max.

“What you’ve got to remember with Max is, he’s just a young lad. He’s a 24-year-old that drives with bravery, with passion, with skill, with determination. And he’s just a guy living his dream, doing his job.

“And he’s up against not only Lewis but a huge machine in Mercedes-Benz. And I think all credit to him the way he’s handled that pressure this year, and hasn’t been drawn into it, hasn’t been sucked into it.

“He’s just gone about his business. And he hasn’t changed, from Bahrain to Saudi, his approach for how he goes racing.”

Verstappen has tended to let two things do the talking: his team and his performances on-track.

No matter how vocal Red Bull gets, it’ll be the latter that matters most.

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