Jos Verstappen seen with Mercedes rival Toto Wolff amid furious Christian Horner row

Christian Horner and Verstappen Snr in talks/Jos Verstappen and Toto Wolff hold talks over Bahrain GP as Red Bull war explodes publicly
It is understood that Christian Horner and Verstappen Snr were involved in a heated conversation over the Bahrain weekend - Getty Images/Clive Rose

Even before he made excruciatingly public the vicious internecine war going on at Red Bull by calling for Christian Horner’s resignation, Jos Verstappen had already twisted the knife out in Bahrain by openly courting Horner’s arch enemy at Mercedes, Toto Wolff.

Verstappen Snr and Wolff were spotted together on numerous occasions at the season-opening race last week, in full view of the paddock. Telegraph Sport understands they were also staying at the same hotel, The Four Seasons, where they were also seen talking.

Mercedes have a spare seat next season with seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton departing for Ferrari, and the instability at Red Bull will only add fuel to the fire in what has been a turbulent start to the season, to say the least.

Asked after Sunday’s race whether he would consider Verstappen for that seat, Wolff was dismissive, making the point that Verstappen is in by far the quickest car right now. Why would he risk the chance of another world title next year if Red Bull continued to reign supreme?

“I think the driver will always choose the quickest car,” Wolff said. “That is fundamentally what it’s all about. At the moment, the Red Bull is the quickest car so that will always be in my opinion the priority.”

‘Max is in a different league, a different galaxy’

But Wolff did not rule out a move. In fact, he was unusually generous regarding the 26-year-old and his performance in Saturday’s season opener, which he won by more than 20 seconds from team-mate Sergio Perez. “Max is in a different league, a different galaxy,” Wolff said. “We just have to acknowledge his performance levels. The performance was extraordinary.”

The very public flirting could of course be seen as an attempt to further unsettle Horner and apply pressure on Red Bull’s parent company in Austria, which is under fire in some quarters for a perceived lack of transparency over its decision to dismiss a grievance case against the team principal from a female employee who had accused him of controlling behaviour. Wolff, who has been among the most vocal of those Red Bull critics in the last week, and Verstappen Snr have a common enemy at the moment.

But there is also the small possibility that Verstappen could trade Red Bull for Mercedes. Wolff tried to sign the Dutch driver before, as a junior, but missed out as both Nico Rosberg and Hamilton had long-term deals. If Horner stays, and Max remains loyal to his father, he may have to find a new seat. Such is in the apparent enmity between Verstappen Snr and Horner, he is understood to have told friends his son will move from Red Bull if he has to.

The pair played nice in public in Bahrain, shaking hands and having a chat when Verstappen Snr arrived in the paddock on Thursday. But those present claimed the body language said something different.

And after 79 screengrabs of messages and images purporting to be between Horner and his accuser were leaked later that day via anonymous email, the pair had a furious row in Horner’s office in the Bahrain paddock on Friday.

Jos Verstappen has called for Christian Horner to step aside for the sake of the Red Bull team
Jos Verstappen has called for Christian Horner to step aside for the sake of the Red Bull team - Getty Images/Clive Mason

Verstappen Snr denied being the source of leaks, saying he knew that was what Horner thought. “That wouldn’t make sense. Why would I do that when Max is doing so well here?” he said.

While it is not known what caused the argument, Verstappen is believed to have stormed out of the office before returning and shaking hands with Horner.

The presence of Horner’s wife Geri and Red Bull’s majority shareholder Chalerm Yoovidhya at Saturday’s race, both openly supporting Horner, had looked to have given the Red Bull team principal a boost and he insisted afterwards that he was not going anywhere.


Comment: The picture that captures the image maintenance of Horner circus

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But what has become abundantly clear following Verstappen Snr’s very public attack on Horner on Sunday is that one of them is probably going to have to go. As it stands, and as he said on Sunday, Red Bull is at risk of falling apart.

“There is tension here while he remains in position,’ Verstappen told The Mail on Sunday.

“The team is in danger of being torn apart. It can’t go on the way it is. It will explode. He is playing the victim, when he is the one causing the problems.”

Earlier on Sunday, Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported that Max Verstappen had been asked by Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the president of F1’s governing body the FIA, to back Horner publicly.

An FIA spokesperson confirmed a conversation had taken place between the pair last Friday, but claimed the president’s advice was the opposite.

“It was an informal chat post-quali which happens often, with a number of drivers,” said the spokesperson. “He confirmed that he urged Max to do what he does best - win - and to ignore the politics.”