Mercedes boss Toto Wolff gives title backing to ‘brilliant’ Red Bull rival Max Verstappen
Toto Wolff has heaped praise on the “brilliant” Red Bull racer Max Verstappen and backed him to win more world titles in his career. Charles Leclerc has set the early-season pace this year, with Verstappen failing to finish in two of the opening three races.
It may be seen as a somewhat surprising prediction, considering Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton to the title in 2021 in acrimonious circumstances which left Mercedes and Wolff himself furious. But it appears the Austrian was not dwelling on that injustice as he made his 2022 prediction.
“[Last season’s success] was not Max’s last title,” the Mercedes chief told Dutch newpaper De Telegraaf. “He is a brilliant driver. It’s completely normal that the battle was so intense last year. It’s part of racing.”
He went on to add: “If the situation had been reversed, we would have claimed the trophy and been happy about it. Max performed strongly all last year and he missed out on a lot of points. He deserved to be world champion.”
Wolff also spoke of rumours that there was a rift between him and the Dutch racer stemming back several years, to when he turned the Silver Arrows down as a young F1 wannabe in 2014. Instead, he stuck with Red Bull – a partnership which, after several seasons, has finally bore fruit.
But the Austrian denied that any such bad blood exists, even though he was less than sympathetic after a huge crash at Silverstone last season which saw Verstappen taken to hospital. He said: “It’s true that there were some controversial moments last year. Everyone has their own view on the matter, their own perception of it.
“Often, the truth lies in the middle. But if you ask me personally, I think Max is very mature and intelligent, quite apart from his qualities as a driver at his age. I have a lot of respect for him and for his father, Jos. That will never change, regardless of the discussions that have been going on.”
Wolff also spoke about his own team, and echoed his honest assertions about the situation the team finds itself in. The Silver Arrows no longer set the standard, and after dominating the sport for every year since the beginning of the Hybrid Era in 2014, they find themselves playing catch-up to Red Bull and Ferrari.
He has not yet written off Mercedes’ chances of success this year, though, adding: “My first thought was that this is a repeat of my first year in 2013 – but that was easier than it is now. We had a fast car then, but especially problems with managing the tires during the race. Now we have two teams and four drivers who are more competitive than us.
“We still believe this concept can work. The situation won’t be there in a few days. It’s a fantastic challenge for us, as a team. We have good people and two great drivers in Lewis and George Russell. We want to prove we can recover and fight back. But Red Bull and Ferrari have it better at the moment – and we have to be humble about that.”