Mercedes’ Toto Wolff, Red Bull’s Christian Horner respectfully address controversies

F1 Horner Wolff
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Toto Wolff and Christian Horner barely looked at each other when they sat side-by-side three weeks ago discussing the F1 championship.

Their frosty relationship briefly thawed Friday ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are tied in the points standings heading into the title-deciding race for Formula One.

Verstappen and Hamilton each led a practice session Friday with qualifying scheduled for Saturday.

“Good luck. May the best man and the best team win,” said Mercedes head Wolff, who reached across the constructers championship trophy to shake Red Bull rival Horner’s hand when asked what the two team principals had to say to each other.

“Exactly,” replied Horner, who accepted the handshake.

It was dramatically different from Nov. 19 at the Qatar Grand Prix, where the tension was evident in their rigid body language and open disdain for one another.

“I don’t need to go to dinner with Toto. I don’t need to kiss his (butt) or anything like that,” Horner said that day.

And from Wolff, “What started as Olympic boxing went to pro boxing and is now MMA. The gloves are off.”

But Verstappen had a 14-point lead in the standings at the time of that encounter, held two days before Hamilton earned the second of three consecutive wins – a streak that has evened the championship ahead of Sunday’s finale. It’s the first time since 1974 the contenders have been tied going into the final race.

Hamilton, winner of four straight titles, has used the last three races to pull within reach of breaking a tie with Michael Schumacher with a record eighth F1 championship. Verstappen, winner of a series-best nine races this season, is seeking to become the first Dutch world champion.

“You know, who would have thought we’d be here this season with an outside shot of going for this trophy? To be tied with Lewis has been amazing journey, an amazing championship,” Horner said. “Nobody has come close to challenging (Mercedes) in the last eight years. It’s been intense, it’s been frustrating on occasions, we’ve pushed the limits, we’ve pushed each other, we’ve pushed our competitors, and here we are at the final race for the showdown. It almost feels a bit like ‘Squid Games.’ ”

Fitting for Horner to reference a popular Netflix series. The streaming giant has made the highly quotable Horner a star through its F1 docuseries “Drive To Survive.” The Netflix program has been described by F1 insiders as the best thing to happen to the globetrotting racing series in decades because of the show’s behind-the-scenes access to F1 drivers and teams.

Although F1 is considered the most popular form of motorsports in the world, it has had difficulty gaining solid footing in North America. Its popularity in that region has now exploded because of Netflix.

This season of racing won’t air until 2022, but the championship fight is the closest and most dramatic since perhaps 1976 when James Hunt beat Niki Lauda – a battle chronicled in the 2013 Ron Howard blockbuster “Rush.”

Hamilton has been in tight battles before, including a 2008 showdown with Felipe Massa, who won the season finale in his home country of Brazil and believed he had won the title when he crossed the finish line. His team erupted in celebration with Hamilton nearly 40 seconds behind.

But with a pass for a fifth-place finish made on the final lap, Hamilton clinched his first championship by a single point.

It’s shaping up to be another stellar finish in Abu Dhabi, where Verstappen was fastest in Friday’s first practice and Hamilton paced the second practice.

“The only chance we have to win this championship is to beat Lewis, and we want to do that on the track,” Horner said Friday.

F1 race director Michael Massi in his regular event notes sent to all competitors reminded teams of rules relating to sporting conduct and the penalties that could follow. It was thought to be a direct message to Red Bull and Verstappen, who has drawn criticism this season for aggressive driving and was accused by Hamilton last week in Saudi Arabia of being over the line.

Verstappen in Abu Dhabi has maintained he has been targeted by the stewards and is treated harsher than his fellow competitors. Both Wolff and Horner were asked by The Associated Press on Friday if Verstappen has been targeted, and Horner removed his mask to answer.

“On occasion I think he has been treated harshly, and I think he has come under scrutiny that we haven’t seen applied consistently,” said Horner, Verstappen’s boss. “He’s competing against a seven-time world champion, and I think allegations about his driving, about his driving style, about his driving standards, there’s been a narrative pushed to put pressure on him.

“Max drives in a manner that ignites passion, has brought new fans into the sport this year, and we do not want him to change. We want him to drive in exactly the manner he has that has put him on the precipice of competing with us for the world championship.”

Wolff declined to speak specifically about “incidents or the driving itself” but suggested Verstappen’s stance is his own perception.

“And that will influence how you think and how you see the world,” Wolff said. “We also have an influence in having the most clear view of things and that obviously differs from Red Bull, but that’s OK. You just have to acknowledge that they see it through their glasses and have an opinion and we see it through our glasses and the stewards have a very difficult job to stay neutral and come up with decisions.”

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Seattle: Cooper Webb, Eli Tomac overtake Chase Sexton


Another crash while leading at Seattle dropped Chase Sexton from the top of the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings while solid performances by Cooper Webb and Eli Tomac allow them to climb the chart and threaten to make this a two-rider battle with six rounds remaining in the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross season.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Seattle
Cooper Webb wags his finger at Chase Sexton after winning his heat in Seattle. – Feld Motor Sports

During the race, Webb knew he had ground to make up. Riding behind both Tomac and Sexton early in the Main, he was as far back as fifth on Lap 7 at Seattle. That position would cost him the red plate and give away the advantage he began to build with his first win of the season in Tampa. Sexton is often at his best as he battles from the back and he methodically worked his way through the field. At the end of the feature, he was nearly five seconds off Tomac’s pace, but during the past 45 days, he holds the advantage. A resurgent Tomac that could erase that advantage quickly though.

Tomac struggled in Indianapolis with a neck strain. That contributed to his worst performance of 2023 and his second result outside the top five. He finished third in Detroit two weeks ago, but it was a distant third after finishing off the podium in his heat during that round. In Seattle, it appeared the same thing might happen when Tomac finished third in the prelim behind his two principal competitors Webb and Sexton. The Main was a different story.

Tomac dropped to fourth in the opening laps behind both of his rivals early in the race, but he got around Webb on Lap 2 and kept charging. When Sexton fell to the ground on Lap 11 and dropped to fourth, Tomac was in position to strike. He scored his sixth win of the season to tie James Stewart for second on the all-time wins list. He now shares the red plate with Webb as the rounds wind down.

MORE: Eli Tomac gets rebound win in Seattle

Sexton has the speed, but he lacks the seasoning of Webb and Tomac. He’s pressing hard on every lap and that has bitten him several times this year. Sexton’s mistakes are costing him with a 10th-place finish at Indy, the loss of seven points at Detroit and a fifth in Seattle as the riders he’s battling stood on the podium. No one seriously questions Sexton’s talent or speed, but ultimately the results are what counts.

Justin Barcia is hitting his stride. He advances two positions this week after scoring his fourth consecutive top-five and second podium in that span of races. Barcia finished between sixth and eighth in five consecutive rounds from Anaheim 2 through Arlington, but he’s mostly avoided controversy and that puts him fourth in this week’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Seattle.

Jason Anderson had a solid performance in Seattle, but with a fifth-place finish in his heat and fourth in the Main he just keeps losing a little ground to the leaders. The biggest impact to his standing in the NBC Power Rankings is a 10th-place finish in Indianapolis that will take a while to age out of the 45-day formula. He’s tied for fourth in the championship points with Ken Roczen, who sits sixth in the rankings below. It’s important to be the rider “best in class” with Webb, Tomac and Sexton stealing the show.

450 Rankings

Rider Power
1. Cooper Webb 87.77 2 1
2. Eli Tomac 86.23 3 1
3. Chase Sexton 85.77 1 -2
4. Justin Barcia 80.71 6 2
5. Jason Anderson 80.69 4 -1
6. Ken Roczen 80.46 5 -1
7. Aaron Plessinger 75.86 7 0
8. Adam Cianciarulo 71.13 8 0
9. Christian Craig 69.86 9 0
10. Justin Cooper 62.88 10 0
11. Justin Hill 59.86 11 0
12. Dean Wilson 52.86 12 0
13. Josh Hill 49.00 15 2
14. Colt Nichols 48.67 13 -1
15. Shane McElrath 45.62 14 -1
16. Benny Bloss 43.00 16 0
17. Grant Harlan 38.08 20 3
18. Max Miller 37.67 24 6
19. Lane Shaw 36.67 21 2
20. Cade Clason 34.67 19 -1

Supercross 450 Points

The 250 West riders were back in action in Seattle and that gave Jett Lawrence the opportunity to break out of a tie with his brother Hunter Lawrence on the all-time wins list. It also provided Jett the opportunity to take back the top spot in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Seattle.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Seattle
Jett Lawrence regained the top spot overall in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings with a near-perfect race in Seattle. – Feld Motor Sports

Jett has stood on the podium in every race this year with the exception of the second Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2 and that level of perfection gives him bragging rights. Rest assured that while the two brothers have a bond that is unapparelled in motorsports, there is no one they would rather beat. Neither has been particularly successful in Triple Crown rounds this year, however, and Jett could lose his advantage in two weeks in Glendale, Arizona under that format.

Lawrence is now two wins away from capturing the fourth-most wins at this level.

A rivalry is developing between Lawrence and Cameron McAdoo. Tired of losing to the affable Australian, McAdoo pushed the envelope last week in Seattle. He crowded Lawrence in the whoops during their heat race and sent both to the ground. That frustration could bubble over with four rounds remaining. One thing is certain, when these two riders are in proximity on the track, the cameras will be aimed in their direction.

Supercross 250 Points

A little means a lot this season. Finishing second to Lawrence in four of five rounds, RJ Hampshire would be losing ground to the leader no matter what, but an 11th-place finish in the overall at Anaheim 2 places him eighth on the chart below behind two of the 250 West riders and five 250 East competitors.

In the mains, Levi Kitchen has been all over the board with a win, one more top-five, two results on the high side of the single digits and a crash-induced 21st at San Diego. He’s really shown his speed in the heats, however, with a perfect record of top-fives and a win.

Mitchell Oldenburg makes the top five list among West riders with a perfect record of top-10 finishes. He’s heading in the wrong direction, however, falling from ninth overall to 11th after finishing outside the top five in both his heat and the Main last week.

250 Rankings

Rider Power
1. Jett Lawrence – W 90.75 2 1
2. Hunter Lawrence – E 90.43 1 -1
3. Nate Thrasher – E 84.00 3 0
4. Cameron McAdoo – W 80.50 4 0
5. Haiden Deegan – E 78.21 5 0
6. Jeremy Martin – E 78.00 6 0
7. Jordon Smith – E 76.77 7 0
8. RJ Hampshire – W 76.75 10 2
9. Levi Kitchen – W 76.67 8 -1
10. Max Anstie – E 74.43 11 1
11. Mitchell Oldenburg – W 73.67 9 -2
12. Max Vohland – W 72.55 13 1
13. Tom Vialle – E 72.07 12 -1
14. Pierce Brown – W 68.64 19 5
15. Enzo Lopes – W 67.83 17 2
16. Chris Blose – E 67.43 15 -1
17. Chance Hymas – E 67.10 16 -1
18. Michael Mosiman – E 65.80 18 0
19. Stilez Robertson – W 64.45 14 -5
20. Phil Nicoletti – W 59.25 20 0

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days for the 450 class and last 90 days for 250s (because of the split nature of their season).

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 10 AT SEATTLE: Chase Sexton narrowly leads Cooper Webb
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 7 AT ARLINGTON: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 6 AT OAKLAND: Perfect night keeps Tomac first
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 4 AT HOUSTON: Tomac rebounds from A2 crash, retakes lead
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Roczen moves up, Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage