So what is Horner’s next move? How will he handle this one? This is actually new territory for him. Dealing with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber was an entirely different story because they were in the same team. This time, there’s his own camp – and that of a clear and defined ‘enemy’. And if that is the mindset he takes, which appears to be the case from what he said in the heat of Silverstone, that could be dangerous.
“I don’t know whether Max has learnt from the incident or he’ll just steam on saying ‘it wasn’t my fault’,” said Watson during our chat. “I’m sure Christian is going to drum that into him: ‘don’t ever think that was your fault, my friend. Hamilton did that deliberately’. That sort of thing. There will be a lot of poisoning of the waters at Red Bull.”
“After Hungary, they are going to Spa. I just hope they don’t get silly going through Eau Rouge and Raidillon, or up through Blanchimont. Monza likewise, there are parts that can be troublesome through Curva Grande.”
But it’s Zandvoort, for the first Dutch GP since 1985, between Spa and Monza, that has John worried the most. “The place where fate will be tempted will be Zandvoort,” he says. “When you go into that Hugenholtz hairpin, which is now banked, the run out of there and up the hill is going to be 180-190mph for an F1 car. If you want to go toe to toe with someone you better make sure you’re on the right part of the race track, otherwise you won’t end up in the sand-dunes, you’ll end up in the bloody sea!
“Let’s wait and see, I’ll reserve judgement until after practice and qualifying. But Zandvoort is a small circuit and the Dutch are going to be out there. It’ll be like the Battle of the Boyne all over again, but instead of the Protestants and Catholics it’ll be Red Bull vs Mercedes!”
We’ve all been crying out for a proper duel in F1 since Nico Rosberg surprised Hamilton in 2016. Clearly this is juicier because it’s Verstappen, in a rival team that currently has the upper hand. Fantastic – bring it on. But through circumstance and combined error of judgement a line was crossed at Silverstone, and one of them ended up in hospital. Nothing can ever be the same after that – but it’s imperative the team management, on both sides of the divide, now consider carefully how they speak to their drivers and also to the wider world. This is a fantastic rivalry, delicately poised. For the sake of great sport and the wellbeing of both men, let’s hope it doesn’t spiral in the wrong direction.