(GMM) Toto Wolff has stopped short of declaring that he is now “friends” with his Red Bull counterpart Christian Horner.
The pair have shared a tense and fiery rivalry over the last several years, reaching its peak in 2021 as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen clashed during that season’s ultra-intense world championship battle.
But, two years on, Mercedes boss Wolff and Horner were photographed in a smiling embrace in the Abu Dhabi paddock late on the evening of the 2023 season finale.
“That was when we were leaving the paddock,” Wolff told the Austrian newspaper Osterreich.
“There was a nice group around Mark Mateschitz, his mother and a few people I know well. I came along and had a funny exchange with Geri (Halliwell, and that’s when the photo came about.”
When asked specifically if he and Horner had made up and were therefore now “friends”, however, the Austrian stopped short.
“Friends?” he replied. “The last handshake might have been in 2021 before the last race.
“But you do have to recognize your competitor’s performance. I have respect for what the Red Bull team has achieved,” Wolff insisted.
Wolff insisted that his much bigger concern is getting Mercedes back to the front of Formula 1.
“By April at the latest it was clear to us that our extravagant concept with the slim side pods was wrong and we had to change the design,” he admits.
“After that we had some results, but the car was just too unstable.”
As for whether Mercedes can beat Red Bull in 2024, however, Wolff said that prediction would require “a crystal ball”.
Very early in 2023, however, Wolff had predicted that Red Bull and Max Verstappen might end up winning every single grand prix of the season.
“Thank God I was wrong,” he smiled. “At least they didn’t perform in Singapore.
“But ultimately, the rest of the car-driver combinations couldn’t even come close, let alone hope for victories. They were in their own galaxy. And all logical arguments suggest that they will be very strong again in 2024.”