Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff has denied claims he asked Max Verstappen’s father to tell the Red Bull driver not to interfere in the title fight.
Wolff admitted to phoning the 19-year-old’s father, Jos Verstappen, but said: “I didn’t say to move out of the way, nor to race in any different way.”
Verstappen starts Sunday’s Brazilian GP fourth with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg on the front row.
Wolff said the phone call was “a complete non-story”.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said he was “surprised” to hear Wolff had “called another team’s driver’s father”.
But Wolff said he had known the family for years and that, in a wide ranging conversation, he had offered some advice about the teenager as a friend to Jos Verstappen, who drove in F1 between 1994 and 2003.
Wolff said: “First of all, I felt that unfortunately for Max there was a negative spin in some of the media around his driving, which I said was unjustified in my eyes and which I felt needed to be countered somehow.
“And I did it only out of sympathy for Max and Jos and nothing else, and I said I felt (Jos) being at the races was an important factor.
“It was the set-up of the Verstappen family for 20 years since go-karting and that’s why I felt Jos being present was important for Max. It was my personal opinion, not as somebody from Mercedes but as part of a personal conversation I would have with him regularly. And he acknowledged that.
“And number two was: it’s two races from the end of the season and if an accident would happen with Lewis or Nico, that would add to some of the negative spin in the media, and this can be avoided.”
Verstappen has been in the spotlight this season for some controversial driving, which has led to a new rule being written to define how drivers can defend their position.
And the Dutchman was involved in a small collision with Rosberg at the first corner of the last race in Mexico, from which both cars continued with no damage.
Wolff added about Verstappen: “I said I think he’s a great driver, he has incredible skill, he is refreshing as a character, he is spontaneous, he is intelligent.
“Outside the Red Bull team, I am a really big fan and he is just what the doctor ordered for F1. The last thing I want, and the last thing he will do anyway, is change his approach.”
Hamilton, who starts the race 19 points behind Rosberg and must prevent the German from taking the win that would seal the title, said: “I wouldn’t expect anything less than 100% from any other driver.”
Rosberg said: “As a race driver, you don’t treat anyone differently because he’s fighting for the championship. At least that’s the way I used to do it.”
Both Verstappen and Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo have said they will race as normal, but would “respect” the fact Hamilton and Rosberg were title contenders.
Ricciardo said if he saw an opportunity to overtake a Mercedes driver, he would go for it if he felt he could make the pass stick without risking damaging either car.