Christian Horner admits Red Bull cannot compete with Lewis Hamilton's speed

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  • Christian Horner
    Christian Horner
    Team Principal of Red Bull Racing
  • Max Verstappen
    Max Verstappen
    Dutch-Belgian racing driver
  • Lewis Hamilton
    Lewis Hamilton
    British racing driver
Christian Horner admits Red Bull cannot compete with Lewis Hamilton's speed
Christian Horner admits Red Bull cannot compete with Lewis Hamilton's speed

Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, conceded that Lewis Hamilton is the heavy favourite to claim the drivers’ title on Sunday over Max Verstappen, with the revised layout at the Yas Marina circuit likely to favour the seven-time world champion.

Horner said that despite Red Bull’s best efforts, Mercedes still enjoyed a massive straight-line speed advantage that Red Bull had been “unable to do anything about”.

In what has developed into one of the classic championships, Hamilton and Red Bull’s Verstappen enter the final race of the season level on points. Hamilton has won the past three races and has all the momentum. But Verstappen knows he will win the title on countback should neither driver finish, which is a distinct possibility given the number of controversial race incidents the two have been involved in this year.

Horner, though, appeared to accept that the Dutchman would start the weekend as the underdog, up against a Mercedes which he described as “unraceable” again in Saudi Arabia last weekend. It was the same word he used in Brazil last month, when Hamilton went from last to fifth in the sprint race on the Saturday, and then from 10th to first in the race proper on the Sunday.

In the wake of that show of strength, Red Bull managed to petition the FIA to introduce new load tests on the cars’ rear wings in Qatar, convinced that Mercedes were “illegally” flexing them at high speeds. But after Hamilton won again in Saudi Arabia, Horner said it was clear the seven-time champion still enjoyed a huge straight-line advantage, which would be exacerbated by the new track layout, which has seen a number of corners and chicanes either made wider or removed altogether in an effort to encourage better racing.

“They’ve changed the layout [at Abu Dhabi] and unfortunately the engine speed that Hamilton has is unraceable,” Horner told the official F1 podcast after the Jeddah race in a recording which was released on Tuesday. “He was a second quicker today, a second quicker in sectors two and three.

“Max would pull out half a second by turn 13, [but] you can’t defend against that. It’s the most frustrating thing for a driver to be sitting with that deficit and that’s what I think has been really frustrating the last three/four races, we’ve been just watching that dominant straight-line performance which we can’t do anything about.”

Red Bull remain suspicious about the behaviour of the rear wing on Hamilton's rapid Mercedes - Lars Baron/Getty Images
Red Bull remain suspicious about the behaviour of the rear wing on Hamilton's rapid Mercedes - Lars Baron/Getty Images

Horner added that, in his opinion, Verstappen had been “head and shoulders” the driver of the year and would be “very deserving” of the title since Mercedes have “had the better car” this year.

“It’s not over yet,” he said. “We’ve got seven days and Max is a fighter, and if there’s a driver who deserves to win this championship it’s Max Verstappen, because Mercedes have had the better car. He has driven outstandingly - look how close Valtteri [Bottas, Hamilton’s team-mate] has been to Lewis this year.”

'Verstappen deserves all the credit'

Verstappen has come in for heavy criticism in recent weeks for some of his close-quarter manoeuvres. The Dutchman was twice ordered to give positions back in Jeddah last Sunday, and given 15 seconds of time penalties, while Sky Sports pundit and former driver Anthony Davidson said on Wednesday that he had heard that race director Michael Masi would lay down the law to both men in the drivers’ briefing on Friday, threatening expulsion to anyone who caused a collision.

Horner said he believed Verstappen had conducted himself brilliantly considering the fact he had been on the back foot for much of the run-in.

“We will come back, we will be fighting, we will attack this last race with everything we’ve got. If we don’t win it it won’t be through a lack of trying.”

Red Bull’s motorsport adviser Helmut Marko, meanwhile, has apologised and admitted his claim that Verstappen did not brake hard in front of Hamilton when letting him through in Saudi Arabia was wrong.

Marko said the information on which he based his comments had been given to him by Red Bull engineers but turned out to be wrong.

“At the time of the television interview, I passed on exactly the information I had previously received from the engineers,” he told f1-insider.com. “They obviously weren’t right, so I’m sorry.”

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