Christian Horner believes radio communications between team principals and race control ought to have been banned following a “heated exchange” between himself and his Mercedes counterpart Toto Wolff at last year’s British Grand Prix.
The Red Bull team principal believes from that moment on both men were so intent on trying to fight their corner over team radio that things escalated to the point where they both went too far at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which ended in huge controversy.
Formula One's then race director Michael Masi, under huge pressure, was later found to have erred in removing a safety car too quickly, allowing a final-lap shootout which effectively handed the title to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen rather than Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. Masi, an Australian, was relieved of his duties following an investigation and radio communications between team principals and race control have since been banned.
Horner admits both he and Wolff were too vocal in that race, trying to influence Masi. But he says the FIA should really have acted after the British Grand Prix earlier in the year when a spectacular high-speed collision between Hamilton and Verstappen saw the Dutchman hospitalised. Hamilton went on to win his home race despite being hit with a 10-second penalty for “predominantly” causing the collision.
After the race there was a “heated exchange” between Wolff and Horner in race control. Speaking about the build-up to that argument on the official F1 podcast Beyond the Grid, which was released on Wednesday, Horner recalled: “I was probably guilty [of getting radio communications broadcast] because I was pushing in meetings for the intercom to be made public. [I thought it would be] mainly between team managers and the referee [race director]. I thought it might mean there would be less chatter as they [team managers] were unlikely to say something unless it was really serious.
“It was in Barcelona that suddenly I heard they broadcast Toto on the phone [radio] to Michael. And I thought ‘That’s a bit strange’ because I had never had a one-to-one channel. It had always been centred through our team manager.
"Then it really permeated at Silverstone where suddenly there was an awful lot of dialogue from Toto to Michael. Then he’s sending him an email and then he’s coming up [to race control] and I thought ‘I’m not having that. I’m going up.’ I felt it was incredibly one-sided… that a team principal should be able to lobby and influence the race director.
“With hindsight, Toto and I had a fairly heated exchange in race control at that event. Toto was obviously arguing his corner that his driver shouldn't be penalised. And I have got a driver in hospital and a car taken out of the race and was feeling pretty aggrieved by it.”
Horner added: “Really after that race we should have said there should only be one communication between the race director and team managers. But of course at that point the competitiveness becomes so driven that naturally you’re going to do the best you can for your team. Of course you’re going to argue as strongly as you possibly can for your team.
“I guess it all came to a head in Abu Dhabi where Toto at several points in the race was trying to not get a safety car. He was trying to steer the course of the race. And I get those transmissions. And as soon as you hear that your immediate reaction is defence. And my best form of defence is attack, so that it’s not one-sided. The last person in someone’s ear has the biggest influence. I guess it’s right that [radio communications between team principals and race director have been banned].”
Horner denied that his pressure influenced the outcome of the race.
“I don’t think so. I think his pressure was he wanted to get the race going again. “The only thing he screwed up on was not allowing the final two cars at the back of the field to unlap themselves. But everything [else] that he’d done, you know, it was absolutely by the book and followed the principles of getting them to finish racing on track.
“And as we saw recently in Monza, nobody wants to see a race diluted and finished under a Safety Car. So he did everything to get that race going again, which would have been a horrendous finish to the season, see it just diluted and peter out under a Safety Car. And then I think the reaction after the race, there was a huge amount of abuse sent out to him, there was death threats to his family. No individual deserves to go through what he did.”