Thursday’s press conference ahead of Formula 1’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix turned heated as Max Verstappen defended his decision to ignore team orders in Brazil and criticized media reports and widespread online abuse.
The two-time world champion refused instructions from Red Bull to give up his seat to team-mate Sergio Pérez, who is fighting for second place in the drivers’ standings. Verstappen hinted that the reason was due to an incident earlier this year, but has not revealed any further details.
The 25-year-old told Abu Dhabi that the team “had a bit of a miscommunication” in Brazil, revealing that “on Saturday and Sunday I had not been told anything about a possible swap or anything. It wasn’t until the last round that it was said on the radio and I think they should have known my answer already from what I said last week.”
He later added: “I think what we’ve learned from this is that we have to be a little bit more open and we just have to communicate better with each other.” Verstappen went on to say the media reports and how the series was covered on the radio, pointing out how the online abuse started to turn towards his family.
“After that race, I looked really bad in the media, but they didn’t have the clear picture,” Verstappen said. “Putting me down straight away is ridiculous to be honest because they don’t know how I work within the team and what the team values me for. So everything I’ve read is pretty disgusting.
“Even more than that, they started attacking my family. They threatened my sister and my mom, my girlfriend, my dad, and to me, that’s going too far when you don’t even have the facts of what was really going on, and that absolutely has to stop. If you have a problem with me, that’s fine, but don’t go after my family because that’s just unacceptable.”
The Dutchman later added: “I just don’t understand when people don’t have the full picture to start attacking me like that. I hope one day they really understand what was going on, because this is just unacceptable behavior. Also in this mantra, to be honest. Not just fans but a lot of people, what they write about me is ridiculous.”
The media then asked, again, what the full picture was, but similar to Red Bull’s statement and Pérez’s comments during his interviews, the team plans to keep those details internal. He said at one point, “It’s incredibly frustrating that when you don’t know the full facts, people write so many bad things at once. I don’t know why that is, but at the end of the day, you’re contributing to all the problems social media has by writing stuff like this.”
When asked why he would not take the record, Verstappen reiterated that whatever happened will remain within the team, but added, “you don’t know the real story, so you don’t have to write the story. But I’m a little sick of all this bull—-, just moving around all the time.
“Once something negative has to be pointed out, and it’s quite boring, to be honest, to be a part of all that. Whereas at the end of the day, I haven’t even done anything wrong. It’s just that people misunderstood what was really going on.”
Verstappen was later asked if he pays attention to what the media writes or what is said on social media, and if it works for him and how he tries to block it. The 25-year-old revealed how far online abuse has gone.
“Well, when your own sister writes to you that it’s too much and you have to do something about it, I think that says enough. So, yeah, it gets me because you can’t attack my family,” he said.
What Verstappen touched on has been an ongoing issue in Formula 1, particularly this season, as the sport, teams and drivers have repeatedly condemned abuse and harassment of fans since the Austrian Grand Prix. Since then, Lando Norris has opened up about the death threats and online abuse he received, Verstappen and AlphaTauri have condemned the abuse directed at Red Bull chief strategy engineer Hannah Schmitz after the Dutch Grand Prix and Alpine recently launched two different statements condemning online abuse. One was ahead of the Mexico City Grand Prix in relation to the online abuse directed at FIA race judge Silvia Bellot after Fernando Alonso’s penalty crash, and tThe team issued another statement last weekend after the vile, toxic comments made after the sprint race.
Red Bull also condemned the widespread abuse directed at their drivers, their families and the team that follows Brazil in a statement on Thursday.
“The events that followed from a social media perspective are completely unacceptable. The abusive online behavior towards Max, Checo, the team and their respective families is shocking and saddening and, unfortunately, something we as a sport have to deal with with depressing regularity. There is no place for that in racing or society as a whole and we have to do and be better. At the end of the day this is a sport, we are here to compete. The threats to life, the hate mail, the vitriol towards extended family members is sad. We value inclusion and want a safe space for everyone to work and enjoy our sport. The abuse must stop.”