Red Bull Racing has insisted that Mark Webber receives the full support of the team, despite the Australian claiming the outfit was emotionally in favor of Sebastian Vettel.
Ahead of the final two races of the campaign, Webber suggested that his bosses would prefer it if Vettel came out on top at the end of the season. Those suggestions have come as a surprise to team principal Christian Horner, who says that claims of favoritism toward Vettel were unfounded.
"I think the members of the team would be greatly hurt to see that Mark has said that – if he has said that – and I can only think it's been taken out of context because he has a great deal of support within the team, within Austria and with Dietrich Mateschitz, who has ultimately provided the opportunity that is there now," said Horner when asked for his response to Webber's suggestions. "The team has provided a great car and we're determined to finish the season on a high.
"We've got two great drivers – we're in a unique situation where we've got two drivers competing for the championship. It would've been wrong from the team's point of view to back one driver over the other.
"As we saw in Korea, Mark went into that race leading the World Championship. For 15 laps behind the pace car he was extending his lead, then potentially Sebastian went into the lead of the championship, only for Fernando Alonso to be gifted a victory, and that then changes the dynamic of the situation again."
Horner suggested that Webber's feelings may be based on the views of Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko, who is known to be close to Vettel.
"I would say I'd have to understand what Mark was meaning by those comments, because he's had tremendous support from the team, not just this year but in all the years that he's been with Red Bull," he explained. "He's probably referring to the support of Helmut Marko for Sebastian Vettel, but that doesn't influence the way the team operates or the way it supports its drivers. We gave both drivers a great car this year.
"We gave Mark the tools to get the job done. All his race victories have been in Red Bull cars and it's a great opportunity for both of them to compete and win this championship. Mark's had a lot of support not just this year but in all the time that he's driven for Red Bull."
He added: "I'm sure Mark would love the team to say, 'Yes, after whatever point in the year your teammate will now be your rear gunner,' but Red Bull is about giving both drivers opportunity. They've both driven well, they've both made mistakes this year, as have other drivers, but we're determined to continue giving them as much support as we can. The focus of the team is obviously the constructors' title and the drivers' title, and that's very much our objective going into the last two races."
Horner also dismissed a comment from Webber which suggested his speed this year had been an "inconvenience" to the team.
"It's not been inconvenient at all," said Horner. "Mark has had tremendous support from the team since his leg-breaking accident last year. He came back strongly last year and he's been even stronger this year.
"He's delivered well. The team's given him a great car and we've done our best to treat both drivers with absolute equality. It's been interesting to see how over the season the balance of pace between the two of them has varied.
"Had Mark finished in Korea, he'd have probably won and be leading the championship. It was a rare mistake from Mark – all the drivers have made mistakes this year. Had Sebastian finished the race, he'd have been the championship leader. Unfortunately, that situation didn't turn out for either of them and now Fernando Alonso is the leader and we're the chasing pack. It's not been inconvenient at all for Mark to be leading at any point."
Horner also did not share Webber's frustrations about critical comments from Gerhard Berger appearing on Red Bull's own television channel.
"The comments were made by an individual who has nothing to do with the team," said Horner. "Gerhard Berger has driven a lot of grands prix, he's got his own opinions without all of the facts, but it's not a Red Bull position – it's just something that's been broadcast on a TV station that's always believed in giving freedom of speech. But it's not a Red Bull position, it's not a team view, it's purely a Gerhard Berger opinion."
The team boss concluded that tensions such as those expressed by Webber today were a natural part of a title fight involving teammates.
"Obviously, with a drivers' World Championship there's a huge amount at stake, and when one of the competitors you're racing against is your teammate then inevitably certain emotions will come in," said Horner. "Mark has tremendous support both within Red Bull, within [the race shop at] Milton Keynes, within Austria, within all the technical group, within all the technicians, within the garage – you've only got to look at the way that the mechanics from the two cars interact to see what a close-knit team this is. But, inevitably, when there's so much at stake it's sometimes understandable for drivers' emotions to bubble over."