While Mercedes decision not to press ahead with its appeal left the way clear for Max Verstappen to receive his championship trophy without the fear of it subsequently being taken away, in many ways the damage was already done.
Rather than savouring the sweet taste of victory, Red Bull and Verstappen had to endure days of criticism as the events of Abu Dhabi left a bitter taste for all.
While the Austrian team headed to the Yas Marina seeking an on track showdown, without the sort of incidents the media was hoping for, Mercedes was prepared for anything, even to the point of having QC, Paul Harris, a specialist in litigation who successfully helped Manchester City with its Champions League ban, on hand.
“We were summoned to the (Abu Dhabi) stewards’ hearing and confronted with a barrister I had last seen dealing with a tyre issue that they (Mercedes) had back in 2013,” Christian Horner tells the Daily Telegraph. “Suddenly you’re in the thick of it.
“The stewards in the room, they weren’t professional lawyers,” he continues. “There was a finance guy, the drivers’ steward and a local steward.
“Is it fair them to be faced with a QC? That can be quite intimidating,” he adds. “He’s not an operational member of the team, he’s not a sporting director. This is an issue that needs to be considered by the FIA. We don’t want to be taking lawyers, let alone barristers, racing.”
The Briton admits that in the post-race melee, Daimler boss, Ola Kallenius was among the first to congratulate him. The same could not be said of the Mercedes team.
“I did find it disappointing that there wasn’t a single member of the Mercedes team below the podium,” says Horner. “It’s a shame that they’ve taken it in the manner they have.
“Emotions run high,” he admits. “But they have been a winning machine for eight years now, and at some point that has to come to an end.”
Of course, everything hinged on the decision by the race director to allow those cars separating race leader Hamilton and Verstappen to un-lap themselves, thereby giving the Dutchman a free run at his rival, leading to one of the most exhilarating, yet controversial single laps in racing history.
“You have to ask yourself what would have happened if it had been the other way round,” asks Horner, “would Lewis be the hero or the villain?”
The Red Bull boss reflects on a season of controversial moments, not least that at Silverstone.
“It was a massive, massive impact,” says Horner. “It definitely rang his bell. It was only at 11.30 in the evening that the doctors released him, after they had conducted all the tests.
“He had seen his championship lead obliterated and been taken out of the race. The stewards had found Lewis at fault. But there Lewis was, having scored 25 points.
“You can’t examine incidents in isolation,” he continues. “So many decisions had gone against us. Even at the beginning of the race in Abu Dhabi, no penalty was given to Hamilton for cutting the chicane. Lots of people have said that Lewis was a sitting duck in Abu Dhabi.
“Tactically, Mercedes made an error,” he adds, referring to the German team’s failure to pit its driver while Verstappen stopped for the softs that would aid him on that fraught, fateful final lap. “They had the choice to pit, they chose not to, and they left him in that situation.
“Naturally, we’re going to roll the dice and go for it,” he continues. “Max just refused to give up…
“You didn’t hear him moaning on the radio, every lap, he drove his heart out,” he continues, “then suddenly a chance presented itself. When you look at his pass at Turn Five, I don’t think Lewis was expecting him to go through there. He didn’t even defend. He was waiting for him more into Turn Six, but Max took him by surprise. Classic Verstappen.
“Even entering that weekend, I felt Max deserved it for how he had driven, how he had applied himself, how he had kept fighting under the most intense pressure and scrutiny, even when he didn’t have, in the second half of the year, the best car,” says Horner.
Referring to Mercedes call for an overhaul of the decision making process, Horner poo-poos the suggestion, whilst defending race director, Michael Masi.
“It’s an exaggeration,” he says. “Latifi, I’m sure, didn’t intend to crash. It was just an accident. The marshals did a great job of recovering the car in time, and Michael opted to get the race going again. It’s unfair, the abuse he has received. One side is always going to be unhappy.
“I think it’s a shame,” he says of the absence of Toto Wolff and Hamilton at the prize-giving gala. “The constructors’ championship has so much fiscal value to it, it’s where all the money is distributed. While the prestige is with the drivers, the value is with the constructors.”
Asked about claims that radio communications between the teams and race control should be banned, and certainly no longer made public, Horner is adamant.
“I fought very hard to get these messages broadcast. Charlie Whiting was never in favour, but Stefano Domenicali, when he became F1’s chief executive, thought it would be interesting to hear the dynamic. It makes you think twice about hitting the button, because you know it’s going live. It surprised everybody, the amount of lobbying that was going on, particularly from some quarters.”
In conclusion, Horner pays tribute to his driver.
“Max has driven with such determination and spirit,” he says. “He just wasn’t going to roll over and let this go. It’s a life lesson: that if you keep striving for something, anything is achievable.”