It is only when Christian Horner begins to recount the seconds immediately after the crash at Copse Corner that a little of the defiance leaves his voice.
His office in the Red Bull motor home is noise-proof, the roar of engines is muted, even so, it is a strain to hear. Horner admits there is a paternal relationship between Red Bull and Max Verstappen. He has been their boy since 17. In the aftermath of the collision with Lewis Hamilton, there was only silence.
‘At first we didn’t hear anything back,’ he says. ‘You see a shunt like that, you just want to hear a voice. Then we heard a long groan. And finally he spoke. It was a 51G crash — bearing in mind 10G would knock a person out.
Christian Horner says Max Verstappen was ‘beaten up’ by the crash but has quickly moved on
‘That was the biggest crash of his career. And he was lucky. He was lucky the way it went, lucky the car did not stick on the gravel and go over. Lucky it wasn’t nose first. Lucky for the Halo, too. The crash broke his seat, it properly knocked the stuffing out of him. It was basically the force of a small aircraft accident.’
And then Horner’s telephone began buzzing with messages. One was from a friend, a respected surgeon, detailing a long list of checks that had to be made urgently. One was a special chest scan that could pick up the warning signs of a rupture on the aortic valve.
‘You have to be very careful with the damage you don’t see,’ Horner adds. ‘We did a CT scan, a full MRI scan for bruising on the brain, displacement of internal organs.’
Verstappen walked away from the scene but the airlift to hospital was no stunt. It wasn’t until late that night that Horner felt in a position to relax.
Except he wasn’t relaxed. He hasn’t been relaxed since the incident happened. On Thursday, Red Bull presented an appeal to stewards who blamed Hamilton for the crash but thought it only worthy of a 10-second penalty.
Horner said he expected the appeal to fail, but wished to lay down a marker for the rest of the season. Red Bull’s submission detailed three times Hamilton has made contact with their cars, front left to rear right each time. It also contained a quite astonishing allegation.
Verstappen and Hamilton collided on the opening lap of a thrilling British Grand Prix
The Red Bull star was sent into the crash barriers at a force of 51G in the race this month
‘This evidence supports an assertion that Hamilton knowingly did not avoid contact with Max’s car.’ It basically implies he took him out.
‘It was our duty to Max to try to demonstrate the facts,’ Horner explains. ‘Hopefully, it has given food for thought for the remainder of the championship because the reality is 13 Grand Prixes where they start next to each other. Will it happen again? Quite probably.
‘We’re now getting to the business end of the championship. The stakes double every race. Max has nothing to lose. It’s all about how you finish. Anything can happen. You can see we’re getting under their skin. It will be about who tightens up.
‘Lewis has got the advantage of experience, but the disadvantage of age. Lewis is going for a record-breaking eighth title. Max has got a great car, it’s the first time he’s been in this position where every race is a cup final.
‘That night, Max said he felt beaten up but his mind was already on the next race in Hungary.’
The Dutchman was fortunately able to walk away from his car unscathed but went to hospital
And now it is here. Mercedes were fastest in practice on Friday, but Verstappen’s initial lap set the early pace. That, too, was the sign Horner sought.
‘The telling thing was how was he going to respond,’ says Horner, ‘because some drivers with a crash like that are a bit tentative when they get back in the car. But his first practice lap at every point it was there. Straight to the top of the time sheet. That showed great mental strength and resilience.’
Mercedes were furious at Red Bull’s charges, claiming they amounted to a personal attack on Hamilton’s integrity. Horner denies this. He says he wants to move on. But that is not the same as backing down.
‘It’s perceived that Red Bull are moaning, but I don’t regret the comments we made on the day or after,’ Horner insists. ‘Look, we’ve got a driver on the way to hospital, we’ve lost £1.5million-worth of car that has consequential impact under the budget cap, either in people or parts.
‘And we’ve seen our main rival benefit by winning the race and taking 25 points out of a lead we’d worked hard to build. We’re entitled to be p***** off. Mercedes’ reaction was unusual because they have taken it so personally. It was never personal.
Hamilton was punished with a 10-second penalty during the race but still went on to win it
‘Lewis’s record is undeniable: seven world championships, 99 victories, rewritten the record books. If it was any other driver, we would have had the same approach.’
There is a sense, though, that Red Bull feel they are taking on a monolith in Mercedes. They have a driver, in Verstappen, who is closer to Hamilton than any contemporary. Yet they still talk, and smart, like outsiders as if they are battling more than a team, a car, an exceptional champion racer.
‘Mercedes are a team with phenomenal resources and I don’t buy the rhetoric they are not continuing to push with this current car,’ Horner says. ‘Max has been very unlucky this year, with the tyre in Azerbaijan and also at Silverstone, the way he went out.
‘With more luck he could be over 40 points ahead against a seven-time world champion. What happened at Silverstone just makes us stronger in the second half of the year. There is a genuine belief that we could win this year.’
So what will Red Bull’s team principal tell Verstappen if he goes wheel to wheel with Hamilton in Hungary this weekend?
‘Max is a racer,’ he adds. ‘He knows better than anybody where to position a car. I’ve got every confidence in Max. And you’re either committed or you’re not.
‘What I would say is, considering the collisions we’ve had in the last 20 months, you’d rather be on the inside than the outside.’