Red Bull boss Christian Horner was battling to rescue his team's unity and reputation on Sunday night after an acrimonious end to the Brazilian Grand Prix saw their drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez in conflict.
A testy Verstappen, who has already secured his second successive world title, refused to reveal his reasons for disobeying team orders while Perez, who was stunned by his team-mate's surly behaviour, said he (Verstappen) had "showed who he really is."
Perez, whose exceptional defensive driving in the final laps of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix helped Verstappen beat seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes to take his first drivers' title, said he was confused by the dispute.
"I don't understand what his reaction was. If he has two championships, it is thanks to me," he said.
Horner called the pair together for a meeting to patch up their relationship after Verstappen refused to obey a team order to allow Perez to pass him for sixth place on the closing laps.
Red Bull wanted to support the Mexican's bid to finish ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc in the drivers' title race – but they are now level on 290 points with one race to go and the Monegasque ahead on race wins.
Verstappen's blunt refusal, broadcast on team radio, shocked Red Bull as the team struggled to their worst result since the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
"I told you already last time," he said, responding to his race engineer. "You guys don't ask that again to me, OK? Are we clear about that? I gave my reasons and I stand by it."
The row between the champion team's drivers left many paddock observers intrigued as Horner and Red Bull refused to explain Verstappen's grievance.
"As a team, we discuss these things internally," said Horner. "The drivers discussed it, they were very clear.
"We will go to Abu Dhabi to get 'Checo' the second place and Max will support that. We won't talk about what happens internally but the drivers shook hands on it.
"We work as a team. We race as a team and our priority is to help Checo get second in the championship. We will do the best we can to achieve that and if Max can help in any way he will do."
Verstappen said he and Perez had drawn a line under the dispute and moved on – just as he and Red Bull recently 'moved on' after a row with Sky SportsF1 over an alleged bias against the team led them to snub the broadcaster in Mexico.
On Sunday night, a journalist from the respected Amsterdam-based De Telegraaf, the Netherlands' biggest-selling daily reported that Verstappen's refusal was payback to Perez for costing him a chance to win the Monaco Grand Prix earlier this year.
The Mexican driver allegedly crashed deliberately in qualifying to cause a red flag stoppage that ended the session when he was third ahead of the Dutchman, it reported.
Perez then went on to win the race on Sunday and, according to the report, later confirmed to team officials that he had crashed on purpose.
Reporter Erik van Haren also posted on Twitter supporting comments made by pundit Tom Coronel on ViaPlay, which broadcasts F1 in the Netherlands, alleging Perez had admitted he crashed deliberately in Monaco to Horner and team consultant Helmut Marko. "Max Verstappen has not forgotten that," he was quoted saying.
This latest public outburst followed last month's revelation by the sport's governing body the International Motoring Federation (FIA) that Red Bull had breached the sport's $145 million (dollars) cost cap last year.
The team were fined $7 million and given a 10 per cent restriction on wind tunnel development in a punishment that Horner described as 'draconian'.
Verstappen's day in Sao Paulo was also marred by a collision with Hamilton on lap seven which resulted in him pitting with a broken front wing and being handed a five-second penalty for causing an accident.