Verstappen cautioned on Mercedes title quest

SAO PAULO • It was an abject plea to Formula One's maverick teenager that could yet backfire spectacularly on the most dramatic of sporting stages.

Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes Motorsport, called on Jos Verstappen and warned him to keep his son Max out of the internecine battle for the title between his drivers at today's Brazilian Grand Prix.

If the pressure is intensifying for Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, then the entreaties by the Mercedes management - pleas, threats, warnings, whatever they are - have fallen on deaf ears.

The huddle in the corner of the Red Bull motorhome on Friday morning was not to clear the air but to underline their concerns over a young driver whose ambition has been known to override even his prodigious talent.

Niki Lauda, the Mercedes chairman, sat down with Verstappen Sr and Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, to deliver the message that the youngster would not want to be remembered for all the wrong reasons as a deciding factor in the championship.

Mercedes team members will just have to bite their lips nervously today because there will be no deals to lay off and Verstappen has the green light to cause as much havoc as he likes, within the rules.

  • Championship permutations

    Nico Rosberg, who leads Lewis Hamilton by 19 points, will clinch the championship if he wins in Brazil today.

    If Hamilton wins and Rosberg fails to finish, the British driver takes a six-point lead to the final race in Abu Dhabi.

    Rosberg can be champion if: he scores seven points or more than Hamilton; he is second and Hamilton is fourth or lower; he is third and Hamilton is sixth or lower; he is fourth and Hamilton is eighth or lower; he is fifth and Hamilton ninth or lower; and he is sixth and Hamilton is 10th or lower.

Verstappen, 19 and in his second season in Formula One, has got the Mercedes team running scared.

For Hamilton, the mission is straightforward - win, because there is no alternative.

For Rosberg, there is danger everywhere. He has brought a 19-point lead to Interlagos but knows that it can be gone in a flash if there is one slip, one tap or one clash with a young charger with much to prove and no fear.

No wonder Wolff and Lauda are scared that Verstappen could play a major part in defining how this championship battle will be decided. The Dutchman will be in the mix today as the leaders hurtle into that steep first corner.

"My main message for Jos was that he should come to the races again because he seems to be the only guy that Max really listens to and respects," said Wolff. "And I also said to him that it would be bad for Max if he was remembered for deciding the World Championship this year through a reckless move against one of our drivers."

Rosberg will also be part of the consensus that rain - almost a Formula One tradition for Sao Paulo - will switch the smart money to his team-mate.

Hamilton is a master in the rain but Rosberg, bidding for a maiden world title, prefers a dry track. The German, though, will simply have to deal with it if he is to prove himself, for the weather map is a glut of dark clouds and fat water droplets.

THE TIMES, LONDON

F1 BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 13, 2016, with the headline 'Verstappen cautioned on Mercedes title quest'. Print Edition | Subscribe