SINGAPORE — Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff sought to diffuse a tense exchange between himself and Max Verstappen on Friday (15 September), calling his previous comments "maybe not the most intelligent".
Wolff was asked before the Italian Grand Prix two weeks ago about Verstappen's record-breaking winning streak, which the Red Bull Racing driver eventually stretched to 10 straight races at Monza. However, Wolff seemingly dismissed the magnitude of the record, saying that the record is only good "for Wikipedia".
That earned a rebuttal from Verstappen during Thursday's drivers media conference at this weekend F1 Singapore Grand Prix. The two-time defending F1 champion said, "I think it's important to just focus on your team. That's what we did when Mercedes were dominating, and we knew we had to work harder to try to get to that level.
"I think you should be able to appreciate a dominant team, and be inspired by the team."
On Friday, Wolff backtracked on his previous comment, and said during the team principals media conference, "It wasn't the most intelligent thing that I could have said under those circumstances.
"But it's always been my mindset. It's something that I've taken from Niki (Lauda, former F1 champion). Niki gave his trophies away to get free car washes, and you won't find a lot of memorabilia in my place either, because numbers never mean much for the two of us.
"Formula One is a meritocracy. And I've often said this year that only the best will win the world championship, and we need to recognise what a great job is being done (at Red Bull)."
Disapproval over Helmut Marko's comments
Another person who has recently attracted heavy criticism for his comments is former F1 driver Helmut Marko, who currently serves as advisor to the Red Bull team.
The 80-year-old, who raced in F1 in 1971 and 1972, had blamed Red Bull's Mexican driver Sergio Perez's inconsistent form this season on his ethnicity, in an interview with Red Bull-owned Servus TV after the Italian Grand Prix.
He has since issued a public apology, which Perez accepted, although the comments continued to be condemned at the Singapore Grand Prix - not least by Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, who said on Thursday that Marko's opinion was "completely unacceptable".
And all four team principals who attended Friday's media conference also expressed their disapproval of Marko's comments.
"It's not only what had been said, but it's also about the mindset that you can even come up with these comments," Wolff said. "That's not something that should have said in the past, and certainly not now or in the future.
"We all know that we need more diversity and inclusivity in Formula One, and the teams do their best to create an environment where this is possible. Statements like these don't shine the light on Formula One that it deserves for all of its efforts."
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