Red Bull team boss Christian Horner cast Max Verstappen on Friday as a brave underdog up against Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes machine in the battle for the Formula One title.
The Dutch driver is level on points with Mercedes’ seven times world champion, but ahead of the Briton 9-8 on wins, going into Sunday’s decisive season-ending showdown in Abu Dhabi.
Horner said Hamilton, the most successful driver of all time, had used “every tool available to him” to put Verstappen under huge pressure and had been “backed up by the Mercedes media machine”.
“What you’ve got to remember about Max is that he’s just a young lad,” he told reporters.
“He’s a 24-year-old that drives with bravery, with passion, with skill, with determination. He’s just a guy living his dream and doing his job.
“And he’s up against not only Lewis but a huge machine in Mercedes-Benz.”
The Red Bull team are owned by the Austrian energy drink company, a private conglomerate with global sales of 6.3 billion euros ($7.11 billion) last year. The Mercedes F1 team is owned in equal parts by parent company Daimler, team principal Toto Wolff and petrochemicals giant Ineos.
Both are well-funded and have to reduce spending to comply with a budget cap of $145 million that is still far more than some rivals have available.
Horner said there had been a “very clear narrative” in the run-up to Abu Dhabi with Verstappen, in the spotlight for his aggressive and uncompromising approach to racing, depicted as ‘Mad Max’.
He said Mercedes had more marketing people than Red Bull had mechanics and suggested the German manufacturer was irked at being beaten by his outfit. “If you think of the size of Mercedes globally… the power that they wield with media around the world, I think we pale into insignificance in comparison,” he said.
“I think the Mercedes Formula One team have become a machine in the last seven or eight years during their period of dominance and obviously have the weight and power of the parent company behind them.
“I can’t believe it’s particularly comfortable being beaten by an energy drinks manufacturer.”
Mercedes have won the last seven drivers’ and constructors’ championships, following on from Red Bull’s four in a row from 2010-13.