Toto Wolff launches mind games in anticipation of F1 title showdown – MPH


Mercedes boss Toto Wolff suggested the F1 championship could be decided with a Senna-Prost-style crash. It's unthinkable but the comment was calculated, writes Mark Hughes

Toto Wolff

Wolff has built himself in an "insurance policy" in case of another clash between title contenders


Toto Wolff has said that if the title fight between his driver Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen goes down to the wire in Abu Dhabi, whichever of them is in front [in the championship] is going to ‘absolutely do the same as in the SennaProst years’, ie have an accident which takes them both out and become champion by default.

Hamilton seemed surprised in the extreme when told of the comment. “I have never won a championship in that way and I wouldn’t want to. I am here to win in the right way and that is through sheer skill, determination and hard work… and if you are going to lose it, you lose it in the right way, with dignity, giving it your all, and working as hard as you can. If it doesn’t work out, you live to fight another day.”


Hamilton and Verstappen have rejected Wolff’s comments

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Verstappen was similarly dismissive. “I like what I’m doing, you know, so that takes the pressure off. It’s not the first time I’ve been in a championship fight. Yes, the first time in F1. But that doesn’t really change. You need to win and you just try to do same. If the car is capable of winning I’ll win. If it’s not I won’t. I don’t think about historic fights about previous drivers. I’m just doing the best I can and that’s how to win a championship. My approach with a points lead will be the same. I race hard, like Lewis does, but will always try to keep it clean.”

But let’s think about where Toto may be coming from when he makes that provocative comment. Quite a bit of what Wolff says in public is calculated and has a certain propaganda element. The title fight extends out to the psy-ops and neither he nor Christian Horner are ever shy about engaging in those. From that perspective, anything which diverts pressure onto the other or creates questions in their heads is worth doing and all part of the game. Toto has made that comment at a time when Verstappen is ahead in the points and with the possibility that he may still be ahead as they arrive for the final race. He has almost certainly raised the subject early to make the watching world aware and attuned to it, especially now in this Netflix era of enhanced storylines. If all eyes were upon Verstappen in Abu Dhabi waiting to see if he did what Wolff had suggested if challenged by Hamilton, it would be psychologically even more difficult to do. That’s where Wolff is coming from, believe me. That was not just a throwaway line, but a well-aimed tungsten-tipped sniper’s bullet in the ongoing war.

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The reality is that Verstappen is no more likely to coldly, deliberately, take out his title rival than Hamilton. He is not made up like that. Sure, he is super-hard and no-compromise in battle, but there is none of the cynical Prost or entitled Senna about either of the current title duellists. They don’t have that darkness within them. They will absolutely fight right up to the margins between fair play and foul, but they don’t cross them. In Verstappen’s early days he wasn’t averse to moving in the braking area (or on the straight at Spa against Kimi Räikkönen), but he’s matured further since then and to imagine either of them taking aim at the other and cynically, deliberately crashing in the way of Senna – Suzuka 1990 or SchumacherJerez ’97, is unthinkable. They just won’t. It won’t happen like that.

But a collision could still happen. If we look at the Silverstone or Monza incidents between them, neither was a calculated ‘take the other guy off’ move. It was both refusing to compromise, being unwilling to back down. This is where it could get tricky in the final round showdown scenario. Because the guy behind on points absolutely cannot afford to have any sort of incident – and if that guy is in front in the race, the dynamics of the situation are obvious: his rival will be able to risk more in any move. That’s not the same as deliberately taking the other guy out. But whoever is ahead on points can be more aggressive in his moves. If the points gap is sufficiently small there could even be a situation where the driver behind in the race must make a move to win and the driver ahead absolutely cannot allow him to pull that move off.

Max Verstappen launched into the air by Lewis Hamilton at Monza 2021

Verstappen and Hamilton have come together twice this year already

Andrej Isakovic/AFP via Getty Images

There can still be contact without it being a foul. The guy behind is perfectly entitled to use intimidation in any move, to put the outcome of contact/no contact in the hands of the other guy. The guy in front is, in turn, perfectly entitled to not yield. And like that, two hard-headed competitors may collide. But there’s a fine, but very important, distinction between that and plain driving into the other car.

So yes, there is no guarantee this title will not be decided controversially. But it will not be because one has cynically and crassly decided to crash into the other. That’s just Toto trying to build a bit of insurance in his favour into the situation.

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