Lewis Hamilton has called on Red Bull pair Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo not to change their approach at the Brazilian GP in order to stay out of his title fight with Nico Rosberg.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff publicly criticised Verstappen for banging wheels with Rosberg at the Mexican GP two weeks ago and has been strongly rebuked by Red Bull for subsequently calling the teenager’s father, Jos, to warn of the perils of the youngster ‘interfering’ in the championship fight.
Wolff calls Jos Verstappen about Max
But Hamilton, who will start Sunday’s race on pole with the fourth-placed Verstappen lining up directly behind Rosberg on the grid, has made a call of a different kind by urging the Dutchman and Ricciardo to race as hard as ever.
“We are racing,” insisted Hamilton. “They don’t owe me any favours and they don’t owe Nico any favours. If it was me in their car I’d be wanting to get the best result, get the best bonus, get the most points, be ahead of whoever you are racing against. Of course I would want to be racing hard.”
Although Hamilton has held a small but significant pace advantage over team-mate Rosberg this weekend, the Englishman has a vested interest in Red Bull becoming actively involved in the fight at the front on Sunday. Even if he were to win both of the final races this year, Hamilton would miss out on the title if Rosberg finishes in second place in both Brazil and the season-concluding Abu Dhabi GP.
And while not going as far as to call on the Red Bulls to ease off, Rosberg has suggested they could adopt a more ‘relaxed’ approach.
“It is normal for other drivers not to drive differently just because others drivers are driving for the championship because that is not their problem,” said the championship leader.
“But we all need to try and drive within the limits, a lot of penalties have been given recently and that is why maybe it is worth them considering a half gear, or a half something more relaxed, could be the right direction.”
Hamilton takes pole ahead of Rosberg
In any case, Wolff’s plea to Verstappen has fallen on deaf ears – literally and metaphorically.
The youngster has revealed he ignored the call to his father, telling Sportsclubsociety “I was watching TV and didn’t want to be disturbed,” and vowed not to change his approach when he faced reporters on Saturday night.
“We should race, everyone,” said the 19-year-old. “Up until the last they should still try and fight for first. Otherwise you are not a worthy world champion, are you?”
“I am just here to focus on my job and that is to drive fast for Red Bull, not Mercedes.”
Verstappen, however, did stress that the situation surrounding Wolff’s phone call had become “all a bit blown up”, with the Mercedes motorsport boss later insisting he hadn’t warned Verstappen Snr to tell his son to stay out of the title fight.
“I think Max is a great driver,” said Wolff. “He has incredible skill. He is refreshing as a character. He is spontaneous, intelligent. I am a really big fan and he is just what the doctor ordered for Formula 1
“The last thing he will do is change his approach. I did not say for him to move out of the way, or race in a different way.
“What I was discussed with Jos were two things. First of all I felt that, unfortunately for Max, there was a negative spin from some of the media around his driving, which I said was unjustified in my eyes.
“I did it only out of sympathy from Max and Jos, and nothing else. I felt that him [Jos] being at the races was an important factor. It was my personal opinion, not as somebody from Mercedes, but just part of a personal conversation I would have had with him regularly. And he acknowledged.
“Number two was it’s three races to the end and if an accident would happen with Lewis or Nico it’s something that would add to some of the negative spin in the media, and I think this can be avoided. Just to consider that for Max that is not as important as the other two. We are in a very fortunate position that whoever wins [the title] is going to be a Mercedes, it’s obviously different for Max.”