Christian Horner says he cannot recall a moment in which Lewis Hamilton has called attention to Max Verstappen’s talent in Formula 1.
The two drivers were engaged in a season-long battle for last year’s World Championship, with the Red Bull driver passing Hamilton on the final lap of the season in controversial circumstances, ending one of the most hotly-contested seasons in Formula 1 history in dramatic style.
Several on-track collisions punctuated the year as it progressed, including a high-speed crash on the first lap at Silverstone which saw Verstappen hit the wall at Copse, registering a massive 51G impact in the process that led him having to be assessed in hospital.
Verstappen also ended up on top of Hamilton’s Mercedes when the two tagged wheels through the first chicane at Monza, and tensions between the pair grew as the title fight intensified.
In comparison to his wheel-to-wheel combat against Charles Leclerc this season, Horner believes there is a different style of racing between the two given how long they have competed against each other, compared to the champion-challenger dynamic with Hamilton.
But he does not remember a moment when the Mercedes driver has complimented his rival for his talent.
“You know, there’s a difference, there’s perhaps a different respect with Charles,” Horner said on the Beyond the Grid podcast.
“They raced each other since [being] kids, and there was a mutual respect. I’ve never once ever heard Lewis recognise Max’s ability.
“And so of course, there was just a bit more needle to it and you could feel that, and you could sense that between those two drivers.”
Horner said that Verstappen was not “in awe” of Hamilton or “afraid” to race him at close quarters last year, and the Red Bull team boss added that Hamilton deserves full respect for the career he has forged for himself.
But the battle appeared to get personal at times, with Verstappen and Red Bull criticising Hamilton for celebrating victory at Silverstone while he was in hospital, with the Dutchman saying later in the year that his opinion of the seven-time World Champion had changed for the worse through 2021.
With what was on the line in a nip-and-tuck title race, Horner also thinks the battle became a psychological one as well as an on-track tussle.
“I think arguably, maybe more so in Lewis’ head,” Horner elaborated when asked if the two drivers were in each other’s heads last season.
“Because he’s the seven-time World Champion that has everything to lose, Max is the young kid that’s taking the risks, that’s throwing everything at it, and got nothing to lose.
“Some of his overtaking last year was stunning and you felt that started to rattle Lewis, I think.
“We definitely saw after Lewis qualified on pole at Silverstone and Max won the sprint race you saw Lewis, he was a bit broken after the sprint race.
“Had Max made it through Copse [Corner], I don’t think they’d have seen him again that afternoon, so there was an air of desperation building in as well.
“It was high stakes stuff and your emotions run high, but it probably affected Lewis arguably more than Max because, as I say, he’d got more to lose than Max. Max had everything to gain.”
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen were always unlikely to praise each other in heat of title battle
Given how heated things got between the pair of them last season, it is perhaps unsurprising to see neither of them be particularly effusive in praise of the other, with a title at stake which eventually saw them head into Abu Dhabi equal on points.
The tense words went both ways through that time, though, and Verstappen received particular criticism for how he raced wheel to wheel with Hamilton last season, allegedly pushing the Mercedes driver off track when fighting at Interlagos, alongside their several instances of contact that punctuated the year.
Footage from the newest series of Netflix’s Drive to Survive also saw Hamilton brand Verstappen “aggressive as hell”, hinting also that he was one of the “bullies” he has raced against throughout his career.
But contrary to Horner’s words, there is proof of Hamilton praising Verstappen in what became something of a premonition for things to come in 2021, speaking after the Eifel Grand Prix back in 2020.
“He’s such a great talent, he’s so fast and consistent,” Hamilton told Sky Sports F1 at the time.
“So it’s not easy to beat this young up-and-coming champ… going into next year it is a similar car to what we have so I think you’re going to see the closest racing probably between us two and our team in the next 12 months.”
Hamilton said ahead of this season that things were back to “normal” between the two of them however, agreeing that they have “a lot in common” when it comes to how much they want to win races.
Grand Prix Drivers’ Association chairman Alex Wurz assured last year that a “tremendous respect” is there between the Red Bull and Mercedes drivers, but it is probably not incumbent on either driver to shower the other with praise in a public forum, no matter how much needle there ends up being in a title fight.