Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has indicated that Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto has been easier to get on with this season than Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was last year.
Mercedes have been off the pace of the leading pair in 2022 amid the new technical regulations that have seen the ground effect aerodynamics play havoc with their car, while Ferrari seem to have thrived, and they currently lead both championships after five rounds.
Charles Leclerc has been the leader from day one in Bahrain, and his battles with reigning champion Max Verstappen have been competitive, but extremely fair and respectful, with an evident mutual appreciation on display after each race this year.
Red Bull adviser Dr Helmut Marko described his team’s relationship with the Scuderia as a “sportive” one, indicating that the battle with the Silver Arrows involved a few more politics.
Indeed, Verstappen’s championship scrap with Sir Lewis Hamilton in 2021 was a deeply intense one, and the pair came together in numerous moments of controversy before the Dutchman dramatically sealed the title on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Petulant was often the world that could have been used to describe Horner’s rivalry with Wolff and, while he enjoys sharing the front of the grid with the “nice” Binotto, he is not ruling the Austrian’s team out of contention.
“Well, Mattia is a nice guy. So I mean, it’s just a different kind of competition,” he said, quoted by Motorsport.com.
“But you’re writing Toto off. There’s plenty of time for him to get himself back in the show. But, look, I think we’re very much focused on ourselves. All nine teams are our competitors.”
The 48-year-year-old is enjoying the competition between Verstappen and Leclerc – who have won all of the first five races between them – but suspects that Sir Lewis Hamilton and George Russell will be joining the battle soon.
“And I think last year, there was a lot of needle, there was a lot going on off track, as well as on track, whereas this season, this year seems much more focused about what’s going on on track,” he added.
“And I think the racing has been great between Charles and Max.”
“The first races have been epic. And if that continues through the season, inevitably, it’s going to boil over at some point as it gets more competitive and the stakes get higher in the second half of the year.
“But certainly, what we’ve seen so far has been, very respectful racing, hard racing, but fair racing. And as I said, I think you’re going to see Mercedes joining that party fairly soon.”
Verstappen’s tactical battles with Leclerc have signified a vastly different approach to the one he took with Hamilton, and he said after Bahrain that he has known the Monegasque “longer” have raced him “many times,” so it is clear the dynamic is slightly different now.
What Horner believes will be the same as last year though is the longevity of the title race.
“I think it’s so tight with Ferrari, it’s been some great racing, and you can see that there’s a great respect between Charles and Max,” he affirmed.
“They’re enjoying racing each other, you can see that, and I was rather hoping we weren’t set for another competitive year like last year. But it looks like this one could well go all the way as well.”
Leclerc has won two of the opening five rounds, but Verstappen’s two victories on the bounce put him 19 points behind his fellow 24-year-old in the Drivers’ Standings having suffered reliability failures in Bahrain and Australia.