Mercedes opposed F1 reverse grid plan to protect Lewis Hamilton’s championship hopes, says Christian Horner

Jack de Menezes
Christian Horner believes Formula One will help save struggling teams during the coronavirus crisis: EPA

Red Bull boss Christian Horner has claimed that plans to shake up the format of this season’s rearranged Formula One championship with reverse grids and double-header races were blocked by Mercedes rival Toto Wolff in order to protect Lewis Hamilton’s historic tilt at a seventh world title.

A proposal was put on the table to all 10 F1 teams by the Formula One Group that featured an option to hold two races at a number of venues this year, with both Austria’s Red Bull Ring and Silverstone to be included twice when an updated calendar is released on Tuesday.

In order to maintain interest in the second races and to avoid a similar outcome to the first – which broadcasters fear would result in a large drop-off of viewers – Liberty Media and the FIA approved a proposal that would see a Saturday race featuring a grid formed by the reverse order of the championship standings. There would then be a feature race on Sunday, with the plan aiming to add more uncertainty to races as the fastest drivers and cars attempt to fight their way to the front of the sprint race.

Red Bull team principal Horner believes that the heavily disrupted nature of the 2020 season – which has already seen six races postponed and four cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak – leaves the campaign ideal to try out something new as there will never be a more suitable chance to trial the changes.

“I think we’ve got a unique situation this year and having two races at the same venue would seem the perfect time to try something different at that second event, otherwise with stable weather conditions we’re likely to have the same output in race two as we have in race one,” Horner told Sky Sports.

“So there was a discussion last week where the FIA and Liberty Media put on the table trying something different for that second race weekend where there would be a different qualifying, maybe a race on Saturday and reverse grid on Sunday, and my view was rather than doing it at one race, let’s do it at all the races where there are two races. So Austria, Silverstone, maybe at an Asian circuit further down the line, and that seemed to get overwhelming support.”

The plans were backed by the majority of the grid, including Ferrari and Red Bull, but reigning world champions Mercedes expressed their opposition to the proposals. While the German manufacturer’s unhappiness with reverse grids was already known, Horner went one further by explaining the reason they refused to support the move lie in Hamilton’s attempts to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world championships this season.

“The only person that wasn’t particularly supportive of it was Toto because he thought it would interfere with Lewis’s seventh world championship campaign and it would be too much of a variable,” Horner added.

“But I think for the sport if it’s the same for everybody now would be the perfect time to try it because otherwise there will never be a good time to try it and we’ll never know.

“Having races and being at the same venue for two consecutive weekends would seem a logical and timely place to introduce and try something. If it doesn’t work, then at least we’ve tried it, but I think the prospect of drivers having to race through the field on the Sunday for the feature race having to start at the back of the grid based on championship position or a pre-race on the Saturday, I think that would be something really entertaining for the fans, something positive for Formula One and something really we shouldn’t be afraid of trying.”

Mercedes publicly opposed similar plans when they were raised last year, with Hamilton giving his own view that turning to reverse grids would prove F1 had failed to make the sport interesting to fans. “People who propose that don’t really know what they’re talking about,” Hamilton said. “The fact that now they are trying the reverse grid and all that feels like an excuse for not doing a good enough job.”