until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Untangling Verstappen's view on 'Jos vs Horner' and Red Bull turmoil

by Edd Straw
7 min read

Max Verstappen weathered the inevitable storm of questions about his father, Jos’s, post-Bahrain Grand Prix comments about Christian Horner with all the skill and deftness of touch that characterises his performances – and without even anything close to a metaphorical gripe about gearshifts.

Jos’s quotes about “tension”, of a team “in danger of being torn apart” that “will explode” and of Horner being “the one causing problems” were a grenade that reignited the controversy. Max’s media calls first with TV then written media, including The Race, was always going to be the next big moment in the saga that has engulfed F1 so spectacularly.

A 'relaxed' few days

Contrary to the maelstrom of speculation about Horner’s future, and even in some quarters those of Adrian Newey and Max himself, he described the days since the Bahrain GP as “pretty relaxed” and stressed that the speculation doesn’t affect the team.

In fact, he made a virtue of it, saying “ideally, as a team you wouldn’t like to have these kind of moments, but it also shows we’re all quite focused on our job, and that’s to perform on the track”.

His gambit of stressing he’s focused on what’s going on performance-wise was relatively effective, hoping for “a quieter” weekend and adding that “I don’t know, because I’m the driver, what’s happening higher up”. But that would only go so far amid the repeated questions, saying when asked if he agreed that the team might explode that “I hope not”.

Inevitably, attention turned to whether he’d been with Jos since Bahrain. And that’s where Max demonstrated the tightrope he was going to walk so well. He made no attempt to suggest Jos wasn’t offering heartfelt opinions or that he’d been misrepresented in any way, but managed to avoid explicitly either endorsing or denouncing his comments.

“I was with him until yesterday, so this morning basically,” said Verstappen. “We speak all the time. We’re a team, it’s me, my Dad and Raymond [Vermueulen, manager] all together. That will always be like that.

“I guess he clearly felt like that. From my side, it doesn't matter if I am on one side or the other side. Of course, as a son of my dad, it would be weird to be on a different side. But from my side, I just want to focus on the performance side of things and just want to have less talk of what we're doing as a team outside of the track, than the actual performance which at the moment, again, we have a great car and we're looking forward to a great year.”

And so it went on. He batted away the question of whether he could stay at the team with Horner with a “well, we are at the moment” and stressed all he wants is “a quiet environment, indicating staying to the end of his contract at the conclusion of 2028 “has always been the intention” and that “as long as we perform, there’s no reason to leave”.

Likewise, other than offering the generic “you never know” on the question of whether he could envision becoming a Mercedes driver, he reiterated there’s no reason to leave. Even the question of the 2026 Red Bull power unit was shrugged off, saying how good it will be “is impossible to know” but that it’s about “trusting the process”.

Jos speaking out and Ben Sulayem influence

What of the question of whether Horner and Jos can settle their disagreements? This was an interesting point, with Max making clear he believes that any such problem can be worked through, albeit without any signpost to what this might result in.

“Even if you have arguments or not, there are always things that can be worked out or. In general, I think everyone is man enough and respectful enough to each other anyway, in that sense. I also don't always agree with everything that happened - not talking about lately or whatever, just in general in F1 - and that's why sometimes it's good to have a discussion about things.

"You might agree to disagree sometimes, that's also what happens in a relationship. It's how it goes.”

On the question of FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem asking him to back Horner, Max dodged most of it. However, he did confirm that “he came to me in private”, which can only be taken as confirmation something was at least discussed even if he wouldn’t divulge the details. Let’s mark that one down as the infamous ‘non-denial denial’.

The Race then asked if he saw it as a problem to have his father speaking out like this given inevitably the world sees Jos as speaking for him. Again, this offered a chance to even gently suggest what Jos had said was a problem that was not taken.

“I can understand, and of course my dad and I, we are very close, we call every day, if he's not around or whatever,” said Verstappen. “But on the other end also, I'm not a guy who likes to speak a lot about certain stuff. And I just want to focus on the driving bit, and if there are any issues, we try to resolve it within the team”.

One thing Max made clear is that Jos, generally, means what he says even though he insisted he hadn’t asked him about the comments. He underlined Jos’s honesty, leaving us in no doubt that Jos was being direct and saying what he thought – as if that was ever in doubt.

“I haven't asked him that,” said Max when asked if Jos either stood by what was said or regretted it. "From how I know him, from when I was already in go-karts, he's always very outspoken. He's not a liar, that's for sure.

“But I think in general for the team it's very important, I think, from every side of the team, that we can finally talk about the performance of the great car that we actually have, which it seems like no-one is really mentioning that too much the last few days, unfortunately.”

Why did Jos make his comments?

With the end in sight, there were attempts to draw Max on the various theories about why Jos made the comments. Again, Max dealt with that efficiently.

“The only one who knows that is my dad himself,” said Max. “The thing is, people will start making up stuff or speculating, they think that they know why he said a certain kind of things, but at the end of the day he's the only one.

“That's what social media is for, right, also? To speculate and make up stuff. There’s not much that I can do with that, to be honest.”

And in response to the final question, are you not angry about that, he gave a simple response.

“About other people,” asked Max. No, because I know what my dad is and how he’s like.”

What did we learn?

Ultimately, Max didn’t put a foot out of line in what he said. But there are several clear takeaways from what he said.

Firstly, he has no problem with Jos speaking his mind or about what he said. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he endorses it, but it would be unusual for someone in his position not to make clear any disagreement if it was there. As he said, Jos has a reputation as someone who is direct and speaks his mind, so by making no attempt to distance himself from what was said, while also not supporting it emphatically, it seems reasonable to assume that he’s got no problem with what happened.

Secondly, Max’s support for the status quo was very carefully framed. The point about whether he could continue working with Horner was simply a statement that “we are at the moment”, which tells you nothing. Likewise, he supported the broader team and the organisation, but it’s safe to say that had he wanted to give Horner a resounding vote of confidence then he had ample opportunity to do so.

Thirdly, he’s able to be relaxed about the situation. There was no sign of hostility to the questions, all of which he will have been able to anticipate were coming, or of having any real problem with what Jos was said.

In short, he very effectively avoided either fanning the flames or pouring water on them. And that was likely the exact effect he intended, which points to one obvious, but never explicitly stated, conclusion. As he put it, "it would be weird to be on a different side" to his father.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks