Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff used to speak on the phone with Jos Verstappen – father of F1 extraordinaire Max – until the pair’s relationship went south. Tensions have built between Red Bull and the Silver Arrows over the years, and things came to a dramatic head during a tense title battle in 2021.
That season, Verstappen emerged into a real contender to stop Lewis Hamilton’s dominant streak in the Drivers’ Championship. Two years prior, however, it emerged that Wolff allegedly made ‘repeated’ contact with the Dutchman and his father with a view to potentially prising him away from Red Bull.
“Toto Wolff calls him and his father repeatedly and has done for months,” Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko told Auto Bild in 2019. “But I’m relaxed, the performance clause in Max’s contract should be safe, and he feels comfortable with us. If we provide him world championship-worthy material, I’m not worried that he’ll go.”
Jos denied those claims, although he did admit that he and the Mercedes team principal spoke ‘occasionally’ over the phone, adding that he once had ‘a good relationship’ with the Austrian.
It soured midway through the 2021 season, however, with Hamilton and Verstappen’s collision at Silverstone becoming a focal point for the hostility between both teams. The pair went wheel-to-wheel on the opening lap of the British Grand Prix and Verstappen came off worse, slamming into the barrier at high speed.
He was then taken to hospital for precautionary checks, although that did not stop Hamilton celebrating with the crowd after taking the chequered flag in first place, reducing the gap to Verstappen in the points standings.
During the closing stages of the race, Wolff bellowed down the radio to FIA race director Michael Masi, who was subsequently axed for his role in the drama. Jos was unimpressed again, claiming that the saga had brought out the Austrian’s ‘true colours’.
“There have been talks with Toto Wolff at times and I also thought we had a good relationship with him, but the true Toto has shown himself lately,” he told De Limburger. “There is no click anymore. You could say [he is a bad loser], yes. Mercedes was leading for years, of course. Now they are cornered for the first time and you see a different Toto. A pity, but that’s how you get to know people.”