Mercedes’ non-executive chairman Niki Lauda has led the calls for Max Verstappen to change his style following the collision with championship leader Sebastian Vettel in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.
Verstappen’s coming together with Vettel afforded Lewis Hamilton the chance to move to within nine points of the Ferrari driver despite an off-colour weekend for the sport’s reigning champion.
Hamilton finished only fifth but was promoted one place higher after Verstappen was penalised ten seconds for running into Vettel in the closing stages of a frantic race won by Daniel Ricciardo.
Ferrari’s Vettel crossed the line down in eighth despite being second at the time of his collision with Verstappen.
“It was completely Max’s fault,” said Lauda, Mercedes’ non-executive chairman and three-time world champion.
“When you compete in more races you should get more clever – especially when you want to win or challenge for the championship – but he is going the other way. He needs to sort himself out. Nobody can help him.”
Verstappen may be only 20, but he has started 63 grand prixs and is a three-time winner. This is his fourth season.
“He is not young,” Lauda added. “He is old in Formula 1 now so he is like everybody else. It is not necessary because it hurts him as well.”
Verstappen, 20, held his hands up for the incident and apologised to Vettel in the aftermath of the race.
But Vettel echoed Lauda’s call for the Red Bull driver to tame his ways.
He warned: “In that situation he has to change his style otherwise it will happen again.
“I said to him afterwards ‘look, the race is long and you threw your podium away’.
“It is not a question of age because he has done so many races now. I gave him room, I wasn’t planning on resisting, but he had a big lock-up and that is when we crashed. We are not happy because we had the car to win.”
Hamilton and his Mercedes team will now depart the Far East scratching their heads as to how their early-season advantage has been wiped out.
Indeed, the 33-year-old Briton believes Mercedes are now behind both Ferrari and Red Bull and only third in F1’s pecking order.
He said: “Who knows what this season holds? But if it continues this way it is going to be very tough to win the championship.
“We underperformed in qualifying and the race was a disaster on my side of the garage.
“I need to try to rectify that and get myself back into a normal performance.
“It has not changed my thinking about the season, and my goals are obviously still the same, but it is clear from this weekend that we are not the quickest.
“We are the second or third fastest team at the moment so we have got some improving to do, but that is not impossible.”