Christian Horner is demanding urgent answers for how Mercedes were able to fit a second floor stay to their car so quickly ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix, questioning whether the world champions had advance knowledge of the FIA technical directive designed to help teams overcome bouncing problems with their cars.
Mercedes were the only team to introduce an additional stay – a measure designed to help stiffen the lightweight floor, and specifically permitted in the wake of the directive – trialling the solution on George Russell’s car in free practice. They ultimately decided against using it in the race but were still far more competitive, with Lewis Hamilton going from describing his car as “undriveable” last Friday to finishing third in Montreal 48 hours later.
“What was particularly disappointing was the second stay,” said Horner, Red Bull’s team principal. “It has to be discussed in a technical forum, and that is overtly biased to sorting one team’s problems out – the only team who turned up here with it, even in advance of the technical directive. So work that one out.”
Horner’s comments mark the latest escalation of a furious row over Mercedes’ struggles with bouncing and porpoising. In a heated meeting in Canada, Horner and Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto allegedly put it to Toto Wolff that he was over-exaggerating the issues in an effort to force an FIA intervention. That prompted a savage rebuke from Wolff, who claimed his opposite numbers were not paying sufficient attention to driver safety and instead resorting to “Chinese whispers” and “pitiful” political games. He later apologised to Horner on the Montreal grid.
But Horner remains adamant that Mercedes’ ordeal with their cars is less about safety than a failure to interpret the revised rules this season as effectively as Red Bull. “The issue with Mercedes is more severe, or certainly it has been prior to Canada, than with any other car. That surely is down to the team. It’s within their control to deal with that, if it’s not affecting others.
“I know it was said other drivers have been complaining. Our drivers have never complained, ever, about porpoising. They’ve said certain circuits could do with tidying up, perhaps resurfacing in places. But we haven’t had an issue with bouncing. The problem is that Mercedes are running their car so stiff.”
There is also worry among Mercedes’ rivals about Shaila-Ann Rao, who worked for 3½ years as general counsel and special adviser to Wolff, assuming a role as the FIA’s interim secretary-general this month. Rao oversaw last week’s technical directive to the teams. Binotto has described her move from Mercedes to the top of the sport’s regulator as “certainly a concern”.
Binotto added: “It’s down to them to make sure there will be no conflicts of interest at all, to behave properly.” Wolff, for his part, has endorsed Rao’s credentials for the job, arguing: “She’s a lawyer and she is one about governance and transparency. This is what she will be trying to implement and that is good news.”
Horner is especially aggrieved at the timing of the FIA’s decision to step in, with its directive issued just as many members of the paddock, including him, were in the air en route to Montreal. “There is a process for these things to be introduced,” he lamented. “You can’t just suddenly change technical regulations halfway through a season.”