Wolff vs Horner tensions cooling ahead of ‘Squid Game’ F1 finale

One week after tensions flared between their Formula 1 drivers on track, Toto Wolff and Christian Horner’s final FIA press conference of the season proved to be a respectful affair.

Listen to this article

While their respective teams and drivers have gone wheel-to-wheel, Wolff and Horner have fired shots at each other throughout the season. Amid flexi-wing sagas, rights to review, accident reconstructions and threats to protest, it has fuelled what Horner called in the tense Qatar press conference "by far the most intense political title fight we've been involved in".

But two days out from the championship decider, and with the constructors' championship trophy sat between them, Horner and Wolff's war of words seemed to have cooled. Declarations that "diplomacy has ended" (Wolff in Brazil) and there was "no relationship" between the teams (Horner in Qatar) made way for not one, but two handshakes.

"Good luck," said Wolff, reaching towards Horner with his right hand after both were asked what they would say to one another. "May the best man and the best team win." They would later shake hands a second time off-camera when leaving the press conference.

Both team principals have recently expressed their surprise that they arrive in Abu Dhabi even with a chance at the championship at all. "Who'd have thought at the beginning of the season we'd be here with an outside shot of going for this trophy?" Horner said, the outside shot reference meaning the constructors' standings where Mercedes needs 17 points to secure the title.

"Nobody has come close to challenging this team in the last eight years. Here we are at the final race, in with a shot, a long shot in the constructors', and equal opportunity on the drivers. So I think there's a real feeling of excitement."

Horner added: "It almost feels like a bit like Squid Game, that we've finished up here on equal points. I think it's going to make compelling viewing on Sunday."

Squid Game, for those not familiar, has been the Netflix phenomenon of 2021. This is your warning for gentle spoilers to come.

The premise of the Korean series is that hundreds of people take part in a brutal series of children's games (such as 'Red Light, Green Light') where losers are eliminated and killed, but the last man or woman standing has a chance to win a life-changing amount of money.

The final game of the series is 'Squid Game', where childhood friends Gi-hun and Sang-woo fight against each other in a brutal fight to the death. But just as one appears to be about to win, Gi-hun calls for a truce that would end the game and allow both to leave with their lives.

To go with Horner's Squid Game theme, similar to how that moment acts as a cooling at the most intense moment of the series, today's press conference felt like a point where so much of the pent-up tension that made their time with the media so enthralling (and, at times, gruelling) in Qatar, had given way for a mutual respect and acceptance between Wolff and Horner: no, we don't need to pretend to be friends. Because if we did, our hearts wouldn't be in it enough.

Mercedes and Red Bull have clashed on and off the track throughout a highly charged 2021 season

Mercedes and Red Bull have clashed on and off the track throughout a highly charged 2021 season

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

It reasons their fierce defences of their teams, their drivers, and the hundreds of men and women working towards the same goal of winning the championship. "I will defend my team, I will defend my drivers, to the hilt - because that's what you do, that's who you represent, that's who you look to protect," said Horner.

"It would be for me, a very artificial to sit here or throughout the season and be all smiles with your biggest competitor. For me, I can't do that, because that wouldn't be being true. It wouldn't be being honest.

"Of course, emotions boil over. We're in a competitive sport. And I think that's Formula 1. It shows the intensity of the competition, the intensity between the teams. It's given you guys something to write about.

"I think it's just been honest more than anything, and for me it would be totally fake to sit here and say how much we love each other and are going to go on holiday after this weekend - because I'm not going on holiday with you after this race!"

Wolff agreed: "There's mutual respect for the job that the other team has done. They wouldn't be where they are competing for this championships all along. But it is just too intense.

"I stand for the team and in the interests of the team, and that can be fierce at times, because it's not only the drivers battling on track. It's a fight for the advantage in the regulations, and obviously we have also certain bias that comes from different perspectives and different perceptions."

Wolff also acknowledged when that passion of the fight can lead to an emotional reaction, perhaps best evidenced by his reaction to the camera in Brazil when Hamilton finally overtook Verstappen.

"I can get quite emotional in the moment," Wolff said. "And Christian has his own way of dealing with it, as he said, very different personalities. But it is just the fight for this trophy, one of the most important prizes in sport. It's a world championship.

"That's why you cannot expect a lot of schmoozing between drivers, team principals and all the team."

Toto Wolff and Christian faced off at Friday's FIA press conference

Toto Wolff and Christian faced off at Friday's FIA press conference

Photo by: FIA Pool

And it is true. In such a high-intensity sport filled with so many characters and personalities, for everyone to get on would be not only surprising, but also disappointing. Fans have thrived off the dynamics between the team principals in recent years, particularly through another Netflix series, Drive to Survive.

But there does need to be a level of respect. Amid toxicity online and a polarisation between fanbases nearing the title battle's endgame - something alluded to by Carlos Sainz Jr on Thursday - it is good to have seen Wolff and Horner appear to cool things.

Horner talked up Verstappen's maturity and how he was handling the pressure of his first title fight, feeling the narrative had been written against him - something he later expanded on as being partly down to Hamilton and the "Mercedes media machine". He also stressed the need for consistency from the stewards following Michael Masi's event notes warning of points deductions for unsportsmanlike conduct.

"Nobody wants to see this championship end up in front of the stewards or in a gravel trap," Horner added. "You want to see these two titan of drivers that have gone wheel-to-wheel so often this year go at it again this weekend."

As fractured as the title fight and relations between F1's top two teams have been at times, the message going into the rest of the weekend seems clear: let's settle this on track.

It would be a fitting ending to what has been a championship battle for the ages; a thriller with twists and turns to keep us as captivated as any episode of Squid Game.

Read Also:
shares
comments
Pirelli fears Qatar repeat on "aggressive" new Abu Dhabi F1 kerbs
Previous article

Pirelli fears Qatar repeat on "aggressive" new Abu Dhabi F1 kerbs

Next article

The practice signs that give Mercedes a key edge heading in F1’s Abu Dhabi finale

The practice signs that give Mercedes a key edge heading in F1’s Abu Dhabi finale
Load comments
The historic clues that offer hints of Hamilton’s next move Prime

The historic clues that offer hints of Hamilton’s next move

OPINION: Uncertainty over Lewis Hamilton's future has persisted since the race direction call that denied him an eighth world title in Abu Dhabi last month. But while walking away would be understandable, Hamilton has time and again responded well in the face of adversity and possesses all the tools needed to bounce back stronger than ever

What the FIA must do to restore F1's credibility Prime

What the FIA must do to restore F1's credibility

OPINION: The first stage of the 2022 Formula 1 pre-season is just over a month away, but the championship is still reeling from the controversial results of last year’s finale. The FIA acknowledges F1 has had its reputation dented as a result, so here’s how it could go about putting things right

Formula 1
Jan 25, 2022
The six subplots to watch in 2022 as a new F1 era begins Prime

The six subplots to watch in 2022 as a new F1 era begins

As Formula 1 prepares to begin a new era of technical regulations in 2022, We pick out six other key elements to follow this season

Formula 1
Jan 24, 2022
Why newly-retired Kimi Raikkonen won't miss F1 Prime

Why newly-retired Kimi Raikkonen won't miss F1

After 349 grand prix starts, 46 fastest laps, 21 wins and one world championship, Kimi Raikkonen has finally called time on his F1 career. In an exclusive interview with Motorsport.com on the eve of his final race, he explains his loathing of paddock politics and reflects on how motorsport has changed over the past two decades.

Formula 1
Jan 23, 2022
Unpacking the technical changes behind F1 2022's rules shake-up Prime

Unpacking the technical changes behind F1 2022's rules shake-up

Formula 1 cars will look very different this year as the long-awaited fresh rules finally arrive with the stated aim of improving its quality of racing. We break down what the return of 'ground effect' aerodynamics - and a flurry of other changes besides - means for the teams, and what fans can expect

Formula 1
Jan 21, 2022
Why F1's new era is still dogged by its old world problems Prime

Why F1's new era is still dogged by its old world problems

OPINION: The 2022 Formula 1 season is just weeks away from getting underway, but instead of focusing on what is to come, the attention still remains on what has been – not least the Abu Dhabi title decider controversy. That, plus other key talking points, must be resolved to allow the series to warmly welcome in its new era

Formula 1
Jan 20, 2022
The Schumacher trait that will give Haas hope in F1 2022 Prime

The Schumacher trait that will give Haas hope in F1 2022

Mick Schumacher’s knack of improving during his second season in a championship was a trademark of his junior formula career, so his progress during his rookie Formula 1 campaign with Haas was encouraging. His target now will be to turn that improvement into results as the team hopes to reap the rewards of sacrificing development in 2021

Formula 1
Jan 19, 2022
The “glorified taxi” driver central to F1’s continued safety push Prime

The “glorified taxi” driver central to F1’s continued safety push

As the driver of Formula 1’s medical car, Alan van der Merwe’s job is to wait – and hope his skills aren’t needed. James Newbold hears from F1’s lesser-known stalwart.

Formula 1
Jan 15, 2022