After Verstappen qualified on pole for the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort with a 1.3-second gap to seventh-fastest Perez, Mercedes chief Wolff reckoned the difference was “odd” and “bizarre”.
The Austrian added that Verstappen “destroyed every single team-mate” and suggested this was down to an “ability to create a car around himself that is very tricky to control but fast if you can”.
Some have taken this to mean that Wolff believes Red Bull has actively developed the RB19 throughout 2023 to suit runaway points leader Verstappen’s driving style at the expense of Perez.
Speaking on Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Italian GP at Monza, defending two-time champion Verstappen said comments that the car was tailor-made for him were “bulls***”.
He continued: “I just drive the car I get to the fastest way possible. I'm not there to tell the guys to give me more front end, because that's how I like it.
“I'll just say ‘design me the fastest car, and I'll drive around that.’
“Every single year it's just different, every car drives a little bit different.
“People will say what is your driving style? My driving style is not something particular, I adapt to what I need for the car to go quick.”
Asked by Autosport to explain the difference between his two drivers in light of Wolff’s comments, Horner said his Mercedes counterpart showed a “total lack of understanding”.
“I completely agree with Max,” said Horner. "It shows a total lack of understanding of how a race car and team develop if Toto thinks that we're developing a car around a single driver.
“You develop a car to be as quick as you can and sometimes quick cars are difficult cars. That's what's historically been the case.
“I think that the good drivers adapt. You see it in wet conditions, mixed conditions, varied conditions. The elite, they adapt quickly.
“I think that's one of [Verstappen’s] key skill sets is his ability to adapt to the feeling and the grip levels that a car gives him.
“But there's certainly no direction to say we tailor something to suit one specific driver.
“We're just trying to design and build the fastest car that we can. Our tools, our simulation, our wind tunnel provide us with that direction.”
Horner instead reckoned Verstappen was using the “tools within the car to vary his style” to explain the affinity between the Dutch driver and his RB19.