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Formula 1

What's the endgame for Red Bull's not-so-sudden civil war?

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

The endgame to the Red Bull Formula 1 team’s now public civil war is difficult to comprehend.

The influential father of triple world champion star driver Max Verstappen has effectively called for team boss Christian Horner to step down. How can this possibly end well?

Horner being investigated by Red Bull’s parent company, scrutinised by senior F1 figures and the subject of a damaging alleged leak was already a big enough problem on its own.

When Jos Verstappen went public with his concerns that Red Bull Racing will be torn apart should Horner remain in charge, it escalated dramatically, effectively splitting the team into two camps.

Max Verstappen and Jos Verstappen, F1

Red Bull Racing says that’s not the case: “There are no issues here, the team are united and we are focused on racing," is the team’s only comment since Jos’s remarks were published.

Trackside, and among the rank-and-file, Horner may well retain overwhelming support. But if battle lines have been drawn then it’s less about how many people stand on each side than it is about who stands there.

Behind Horner, it seems, is the Milton Keynes-based F1 empire he has led since Red Bull Racing’s inception and the Thai Yoovidyah family that has majority ownership of Red Bull.

Christian Horner, Red Bull, F1

But who is behind Jos? Is he speaking on behalf of Team Verstappen? His son as well? Where does Helmut Marko stand in this, and Red Bull GmbH’s Austrian contingent including executive Oliver Mintzlaff? What about Mark Mateschitz, son of Red Bull co-founder Dietrich?

All have been linked with siding against Horner of late.

Being a lone voice, to say what Jos has said, would be a hugely risky move. It is not just any random observer’s thoughts on Horner. It’s not even your average racing dad.

Jos is a much bigger part of Max’s career than any parent on the grid and has never been afraid to make his feelings known if he feels his input can serve a purpose for his son. What is the purpose now and who benefits from Horner leaving?

The simplest answer is that Horner’s leadership is seen to be fatally undermined and Red Bull Racing needs to be freed from a distracting situation that shows no sign of abating and risks damaging the team in the short and long term.

You can see the argument for wanting to rapidly draw a line under this one way or another. Look at how the situation is spiralling out of control.

The BBC reports that Max is aware of Jos’s remarks and, according to Jos, has nothing to say about them. De Telegraaf reports that FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem strangely attempted to intervene to get Max to publicly back his team boss.

So, if it’s the case that there is a sincere view that Horner needs to go, then who believes it? One person? Or one person reflecting the views of others?

It’s not impossible that this whole thing can be reconciled but right now that does look extremely unlikely. Effectively having to choose whether or not to back Horner means this is one step removed from being positioned as ‘Horner or Verstappen?’ as far as Red Bull is concerned.

Jos Verstappen surely would not be doing this if he thought it would be damaging to Max’s prospects. That would make no sense. So again, is it straightforward - Max is tied to this team to 2028 and his camp fears Horner will be a hindrance to sustained success? Or is it something else?

Red Bull’s team leadership has indirectly been called into question before, like the blog post by Jos on the official Verstappen website in response to Red Bull not favouring his son during the 2022 Monaco Grand Prix, a race won by Sergio Perez after a controversial qualifying spin.

Sergio Perez, Monaco GP crash, F1

That incident, which flared up again in Brazil that year after a team orders row between Verstappen and Perez, hints at the kind of tensions that have existed for a long time and make this sudden civil war seem a little less sudden.

Is there, maybe, a desire for a team principal even more amenable to prioritising Max?

Or is it even wilder, and this is part of a much grander, surprising play, as what Team Verstappen really wants is to have an escape plan?

If Red Bull’s engine progress for 2026 is insufficient, it may be in Verstappen’s interest to be eyeing some escape ramps. Who knows what opportunities Horner being axed could facilitate.

There is already some very tentative speculation about moving somewhere else, like Mercedes. That feels like a stretch at the moment but the question is at least being asked and team boss Toto Wolff didn’t go out of his way to shut it down when asked if he could sign Verstappen as soon as 2025.

Toto Wolff, Mercedes, F1

“I think a driver will always choose the quickest car," Wolff replied. "That is fundamentally what it’s all about. Red Bull is the quickest car, so in my opinion that will always be the priority.”

It may be innocuous, or a different example of someone taking the chance to capitalise on the situation and pull at Red Bull’s fraying threads.

But we know at least one person believes Red Bull will be better off without Horner. What we don’t know is how far that sentiment spreads. And what realising it is designed to achieve.

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