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, criticizing media reports and widespread online abuse.
The two-time world champion refused Red Bull’s orders to cede his position to teammate Sergio Pérez, who is fighting for second place in the drivers’ standings. Verstappen hinted that the reason was an incident earlier this year, but he has not given any further details.
The 25-year-old said in Abu Dhabi that the team in Brazil had “a small communication error” and revealed that “nothing had been said to me on Saturday and Sunday about a possible swap or whatever. It wasn’t until the last lap that it was said on the radio and I think they should have known my answer from what I said the week before.”
He later added, “I think what we learned from that is that we need to be a little bit more open and just communicate better with each other.” Verstappen went on to point out the media reports and the coverage of the radio series how the online abuse targeted his family.
“After this race, I looked very bad in the media, but they didn’t have a clear picture,” said Verstappen. “Putting me down like that right away is frankly ridiculous because they don’t know how I work in a team and what the team appreciates about me. So everything I’ve read is pretty disgusting.
“More than that, they started attacking my family. They threatened my sister and my mother, my girlfriend, my father and for me that’s going way too far when you don’t even have the facts of what was actually going on and it definitely needs 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 attack me like that. I hope one day they really understand what was going on because it’s just unacceptable behavior. To be honest, also in this paddock. Not just fans, but a lot of people, what they write about me is ridiculous.”
The media then asked again for the big picture, 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 just incredibly disappointing that even though you don’t have all the facts, people write so many bad things right away. 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 wouldn’t set the record straight, Verstappen reiterated that what happened would stay with the team, but added: “You don’t know the real story, so you don’t have to write the story. But I’m just a little fed up with all this nonsense—- I walk around all the time.
“As soon as something negative needs to be highlighted, and honestly it’s pretty disgusting to be a part of all of that. At the end of the day I didn’t even do anything wrong. It’s just that people misunderstood what was actually 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 reaches him and how he tries to block it out. The 25-year-old revealed how far the online abuse has gone.
“Well, when your own sister texts you that it’s getting way too much and you need to do something about it, then I think that says enough. So yeah, it’s getting on my nerves because you can’t attack my family,” he said.
What Verstappen raised has been an ongoing theme in Formula One, particularly this season as the sport, teams and drivers have repeatedly condemned the abuse and harassment of fans since the Austrian Grand Prix. Since then, Lando Norris has openly reported death threats and online abuse, Verstappen and AlphaTauri have condemned the abuse against Red Bull’s chief strategy engineer Hannah Schmitz after the Dutch Grand Prix and Alpine recently released two separate statements condemning online abuse . One was ahead of the Mexico City Grand Prix regarding online abuse targeting FIA steward Silvia Bellot after Fernando Alonso’s penalty debacle, and tThe team released another statement last weekend after the hateful, toxic comments after the sprint race.
Red Bull also condemned the widespread offensive comments made towards their drivers, their families and the team that follows Brazil in a statement on Thursday.
“The following events are completely unacceptable from a social media perspective. 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 grapple with with depressing regularity. There is no place for that in racing or in society as a whole and we have to do it and get better. Ultimately this is a sport, we are here to race. Death threats, hate mail, hatred towards extended family members are unfortunate. We value inclusion and want a safe place where everyone can work and enjoy our sport. The abuse has to stop.”