Zak Brown has made his displeasure with Red Bull’s approach to F1 very clear over the British GP weekend – is this a mentality tactic from the McLaren Racing CEO?

With McLaren joining a potential title fight for the first time in years, the criticism of Red Bull hints at a war-like mentality setting in at the Woking-based squad.

Zak Brown has ‘no interest’ in speaking with Christian Horner

“That’s the FIA’s role. I don’t really have any interest in speaking with Christian,” McLaren CEO Zak Brown bluntly said on Friday, when asked about whether he’d like to speak to Red Bull boss Christian Horner about the perceived “lack of respect” he feels is on display from the Milton Keynes-based squad in how they go racing.

Reflecting on last weekend’s tussle and eventual clash between Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and his own driver Lando Norris, Brown’s stance hadn’t softened on where he felt the blame was by the time he spoke to the media several days after the clash.

“[I was] disappointed such a great team like Red Bull, that the leadership almost encourages it because you listen on the radio to what was said,” he said.

“We all have a responsibility on the pit wall to tell our drivers, the do’s and don’ts and what’s going on in the race.

“So I think we need to have respect for regulations and we’ve seen there is a lack of respect, whether it’s financial regulations or sporting or off-track issues with fathers and things of that nature.”

Brown’s comments aren’t a big turnaround in position when it comes to Red Bull, with the CEO having been one of a few to publicly voice concerns over Red Bull’s handling of the internal investigation into Christian Horner earlier this year as he called for transparency into the contents of Red Bull GmbH’s report.

“I think it is very important to be a voice for the sport on key issues,” Brown said at the time.

“We all have a responsibility to protect our brand, the brand of Formula 1. We are all brand ambassadors. We need to hold each other to the highest standards and what F1 stands for.

“What transpired there was not good for his [Horner’s] brand and team but his brand and team are a big part of the sport, so I felt it was right to vocalise our concern that the matter was dealt with swiftly, appropriately and transparently.”

The ever-increasing competition between McLaren and Red Bull on track has brought into focus the relationship between Horner and Brown, with the tensions between them turning from tetchy – think Brown’s criticisms of Red Bull over the budget cap breach in 2021 – to something a little more acrimonious as the Austria collision resulted in McLaren’s leading figures coming out to criticise both Verstappen and McLaren.

Primarily, this was led by Andrea Stella, team boss, whose critical analysis of Verstappen’s driving shifted to being more focused on Horner as the week progressed.

With Verstappen having been blamed for the incident by the stewards and being awarded a 10-second time penalty, Horner said he felt Norris had been “trying to cause something up at Turn 3”, with Stella riposting to say “I think this kind of statement is pretty irreceivable, I would say, and to some extent I think it speaks for the integrity of the person that said that.”

McLaren clearly feels aggrieved by the events of Austria, a completely understandable position – but its vehement position on pointing the finger of blame squarely at Red Bull is in danger of souring the goodwill towards the resurgent squad as the general sentiment on the clash has softened since Sunday.

Rival drivers in particular pointed out how the collision should have been regarded primarily as a racing incident, with even Norris – having been quite emotional and angry in the immediate aftermath – softening his stance to say he wasn’t sure if his opponent deserved a penalty in the end, having had a good chat with Verstappen early in the week to restore their friendship.

But while the drivers are back to being mates, and Norris no longer seeking an apology from Verstappen over it, Brown seems intent on making his dislike of Horner clear and keeping the flames stoked on a relatively one-way sourness that, by rights, doesn’t even really need to be acrimonious at this point in time.

During the week, McLaren’s own social media channel posted a strange tweet of Anthony Davidson’s analysis of the Verstappen/Norris clash.

The Sky analyst, who also works as a simulator driver for Mercedes, broke down the clash to lay the blame at Verstappen’s feet – resulting in McLaren reposting it in a move reminiscent of Ferrari turning to a Karun Chandhok’s analysis for an official appeal a few years ago.

It was a wholly unnecessary inflammation of the incident as tempers had already cooled, and it smacked of bitter victimhood, given the incident had already been dealt with and Verstappen hit with a 10-second time penalty.

After all, the collision between Verstappen and Norris wasn’t as egregious as it initially appeared in the moment and the emergence of footage from similar moves at the same corner in the past showed Norris could have given his rival more room than he did – something Norris himself acknowledged on Thursday at Silverstone.

Horner made a point of not getting into a “tit for tat” with Brown in Miami, as the McLaren CEO said he wasn’t surprised by Adrian Newey’s departure from Red Bull and claimed to be receiving plenty of CVs from Red Bull staff, and is yet to hit back in a significant way against Brown’s confronting approach – although it’s unlikely a riposte is too far away as the criticism of Red Bull from McLaren continues.

McLaren and Red Bull’s sporting rivalry is only in its infancy, with Horner having never really needed to concern himself with Brown to any great extent as Red Bull romped all before them in recent years.

With competition now heating up, it’s therefore concerning to see how McLaren’s stance towards its rival isn’t starting from a baseline of neutrality and pally competitiveness – but rather from a position of exuberant negativity and resentment, as Stella and Brown refer back to historical incidents that have clearly rankled.

The question over this is why this position is being taken. Is it an attempt to establish a war-like mentality within his team as the prospect of a first title in over 15 years beckons? Is it an attempt by Brown to draw battle lines with his Red Bull counterpart, to create a rivalry akin to what Horner has ‘enjoyed’ with Toto Wolff in the past? Does Brown feel it’s easier to attack Red Bull on track by creating a level of acrimony off it?

Or is it a simple case of Brown disliking Horner to the point of being willing to overlook how both Norris and Verstappen were far from angels in their Austria battle?

Speaking to media, including, on Saturday morning, Brown said a radio message to Verstappen after he claimed fifth in Austria had particularly annoyed him as the Dutchman was told he’d done nothing wrong.

“At the end of the race, and I don’t know who it was on the radio – I think it was Christian, but I don’t know, I’d have to listen to it again – they had told Max he had done nothing wrong,” Brown said.

“And that Lando was – I don’t remember exactly what – way out of order, I didn’t think Lando did anything wrong.

“I don’t think anybody thought Lando did anything wrong. Things are gonna happen on track, but I think we need to all be honest with each other and our drivers.

“But to lay the blame, in front of everyone, at Lando, when I think it was clear it wasn’t Lando’s fault was just inappropriate. I think it’s okay, we all make mistakes in life. Own your mistakes.”

What Brown is right to highlight is the consistency in stewarding and how incidents are evaluated and punished, and whether there is a need to continue apportioning blame over contact that, in isolation, is minor – even if the consequences were huge. Particularly, moving under braking needs defining – FIA steward Johnny Herbert revealed that this tactic had not been clear in Verstappen’s driving.

Is moving under braking a movement of the steering wheel while braking, or does setting up a closing tangent approaching a corner – as Verstappen used in his ‘intimidation’ tactics – before applying the brakes count? And should it apply at all if the driver has left a car’s width for their rival, as Verstappen clearly had?

The action, not the outcome, is supposed to be what the stewards rule on, but this was very clearly not the case with the Austria collision – resulting in Brown calling for greater investment into the stewarding of races.

“We need to invest more in our stewarding to have greater consistency and enforcement of the regulations,” he said.

“I think having part-time stewards, it’s a very difficult job, it’s quite complex, and so to kind of do it on a part-time basis for the level Formula 1 is at, I think, is difficult, because Max and Lando were just duking it out as you’d expect them to do, and until someone tells Max, ‘hey, that’s against the regulations’, he’s not going to know any different. And so I think there were missed opportunities for the stewards to make note.”

With Norris and Verstappen having both done their part to cool tensions heading into Silverstone, it’s been eye-opening to see how Brown and McLaren have doubled down on their stance to keep Horner and Red Bull as their target.

If it is a mentality tactic to bring an attack to their season, and not merely an inability to shake off some misfortune, then it’ll be intriguing to observe when Red Bull and Horner start sniping back – a skill Horner has proven particularly adept at over the years.

What’s clear is that there’s a new team boss battle to get stuck into. Wolff vs. Horner has had its turn and, for now, is probably as peaceful now as it has been in years.

But Brown vs. Horner… can the McLaren Racing CEO hold his own and come out on top of this particular mental battle?

Read Next: Christian Horner gets ‘brutally hard’ grilling on Sergio Perez after Daniel Ricciardo rumours