Max Verstappen comfortable with status as world champion

Max Verstappen said he felt like the Formula One world champion and any move by Mercedes to try and take the title away in court would not change that.

The 24-year-old Red Bull driver denied Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton his eighth crown in a controversial finish in Abu Dhabi on Sunday after a sudden change in the safety car procedure played right into the Dutch youngster’s hands on the last lap.

“I do feel like the world champion,” the Dutch driver told reporters in a video call after a factory homecoming when asked about the risk of lawyers getting involved.

“It doesn’t matter what they try to do,” he said. “We won it on track, when there was a green light and we passed them on the track. And they will never be able to take that away from me anyway. About the possible appeal, I’m not busy with that.”

Team boss Christian Horner said it was time to move on.

The immediate indication, however, is that Mercedes — whose bosses have said nothing since Sunday — is still seething at what it considers a manipulated result that robbed Hamilton of a record title.

Hamilton, who led the race until that last lap, collected his knighthood at Windsor Castle on Wednesday and said nothing to the media.

“We’ve welcomed Max home to the team today as the world champion,” Horner said.

“We’re looking forward to seeing him pick up the trophy tomorrow evening as the world champion.”

Asked whether Red Bull might pull out of the sport if Mercedes were to win an appeal, Horner chose his words carefully.

“If the unthinkable were to happen, we would challenge that in the appropriate manner,” he said.

The Briton added that he sought out Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff after the race, but the Austrian was unavailable. Ola Kaellenius, head of Mercedes-Benz, did offer his congratulations, however.

Wolff sent a text later in the evening, and also sent one to Verstappen, congratulating Red Bull on the drivers’ championship.

“I congratulated him on winning the constructors’ world championship and reminded him that’s where the money’s paid, not the drivers,” Horner said. “I haven’t spoken with him since,” added Horner. Mercedes won the team title for the eighth year in a row.

Horner said Mercedes’ dispute was with the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) and race director Michael Masi and not Red Bull, which did nothing wrong but was an interested party.

The FIA said the controversy was tarnishing the sport’s image. In a statement on Wednesday, the body said “a detailed analysis and clarification exercise for the future” would be carried out.

“This matter will be discussed and addressed with all the teams and drivers to draw any lessons from this situation,” it added.

Formula One race director Michael Masi, an FIA official, sparked uproar for the way in which he ended a late safety car period in Sunday’s race and handed an advantage to Verstappen, who had pitted for fresh tires.

The usual protocol is for all lapped cars to pass the safety car before racing resumes, but in this case, only the cars between Verstappen and Hamilton, who was on older tires, were cleared.

That gave Verstappen a clear run to overtake the seven-time world champion.

Hamilton, the sport’s most successful driver, said over the radio he felt the race had been manipulated.

His fans have said the driver was robbed, while others have expressed concern that Formula One put entertainment and excitement over the sport’s integrity.

The FIA said there had been “significant misunderstanding” and the argument was “tarnishing the image of the championship” and the “due celebration” of Verstappen’s first title and Mercedes’s eighth successive constructors’ crown.

It added it wanted to provide clarity to the participants, media and fans about the regulations “to preserve the competitive nature of our sport while ensuring the safety of the drivers and officials.”

“It is not only Formula One that may benefit from this analysis, but also more generally all the other FIA circuit championships,” the FIA stated.

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