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Formula 1

Red Bull in crisis as Jos Verstappen warns Horner must leave

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
6 min read

The controversy engulfing Christian Horner has descended into crisis for Red Bull after the extraordinary tension within the Formula 1 team was made public by Max Verstappen’s father Jos.

F1’s 2024 season opener was dominated by Red Bull with a 1-2 for world champion Max Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez, but a remarkable week in Bahrain overshadowed the on-track action and has created an incredible contrast between the dream start for F1’s top team on-track and the nightmare it faces off it.

Jos Verstappen’s warning that Red Bull Racing will “explode” under Horner’s leadership has now put fresh pressure on the team principal, indicated Red Bull and its team are in an untenable situation, and ensured the build-up to the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix that follows immediately next Saturday will be dominated by the saga too.

In interviews with UK newspaper The Daily Mail and Dutch publication De Telegraaf given after his son Max cantered to victory in the first race of what looks likely to be another title-winning season, Jos Verstappen has warned that Red Bull Racing will suffer if Horner remains as team principal.

In De Telegraaf he says the situation is bad for the team and driving people apart, with tension in the air. MailOnline’s report quotes him as saying: “The team is in danger of being torn apart. It can't go on the way it is. It will explode.”

Jos Verstappen told BBC Sport he had made the comments to the two newspapers after a falling out with Horner in Bahrain.

A Red Bull spokesperson said: "There are no issues here, the team are united and we are focused on racing".

On Wednesday this week Red Bull’s parent company kept Horner in his position as team principal and CEO of Red Bull Racing following the conclusion of an investigation into allegations about his conduct towards a female member of staff, dismissing the “grievance” against him.

The refusal to disclose more detail meant having to take Red Bull on trust that the process really was fair and thorough, and its decision was made for the right reasons. But the situation quickly moved well beyond calls for more transparency.  

Twenty-four hours later, on Horner’s first day in the paddock since seemingly being cleared, a dossier of 79 files implied to be evidence from the investigation was leaked to more than 100 F1 personnel including championship CEO Stefano Domenicali, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, all Horner’s rival team bosses, the media - and Jos Verstappen.

The mid-week leak meant the situation could not (and did not) end with the conclusion of the investigation. Someone, somewhere, wanted to turn the screw on Horner. Which gave way to a remarkable tension on Friday in Bahrain due to speculation another leak would come around qualifying, but this did not come to pass.

Horner would not budge. On race day, he was joined by his wife Geri Halliwell-Horner in a deliberate display of support interpreted by some as a statement of defiance that kept attention on Horner when he should be laying low.

Despite Horner saying after the race that the result “demonstrates where the whole team’s focus is”, this situation is an ongoing, enormous destabiliser. Team members trackside and at the factory will not be able to ignore it, nor the specifics – not what was leaked, regardless of whether it was all real, and not what Jos has said now.

Their attention may not deviate when it counts, and maybe Horner did retain full or overwhelming support from his team while the investigation was going on and when it was concluded. But his leadership has been compromised by the events of the last few days, and potentially fatally undermined.

That is before even factoring in what Red Bull’s partners may or may not think. Remember, its 2026 engine partner Ford was putting huge pressure on a resolution and demanding transparency – which it may not get, based on Red Bull’s parent company not wanting to disclose the investigation’s report to protect the privacy of those involved.

After Red Bull dominated the grand prix, Horner reiterated in his media session he would not comment on the leak. A question about whether the messages were genuine was blocked. But with conviction, Horner insisted he believed he would continue to lead the team for the full season, adding: “I’ve always been entirely confident that I would be here. And my focus is on the season ahead and the races we have ahead.”

Jos Verstappen’s comments put that in doubt. First because the influence of the Verstappen camp within Red Bull Racing, and how Red Bull handles its F1 business. It is enormous and Jos is a key part of that. He is not a normal racing parent in the background.

Second, it means a significant figure related to the organisation – and literally to its star driver – is speaking out against Horner’s leadership, effectively undermining it and indirectly calling for him to leave. While Jos has explicitly denied claims that he was responsible for the leak itself, what he has said here will have serious consequences.

Horner, Red Bull Racing and Red Bull itself cannot ignore this. There will be emergency talks to get ahead of the situation before next weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. If not, the rising tension plays out in full view of everybody in F1.

Max will be confronted with this too. He has had to sidestep provocative comments from his father in the past, for instance when a blog post by Jos was posted on the official Verstappen website in response to Red Bull not favouring his son during the 2022 Monaco Grand Prix – a race won by Perez, whose crash at the end of qualifying prompted suspicion in the Verstappen camp as it prevented Max from finishing his last flying lap.

But this is on another level entirely. Especially as it came little more than 24 hours after Max had praised Horner in the post-qualifying press conference in Bahrain and offered what was generally considered to be a qualified level of support.

Max had initially said “it’s not our business”, referring to himself and Red Bull’s trackside team, and when asked if he still had full faith in Horner's leadership, replied: “Listen, when I look at how Christian operates within the team, he has been an incredible team boss.

“So absolutely, from the performance side of things, you can't even question that. That's what I'm also dealing with.

“I speak to Christian a lot. And also, of course, throughout the weekend here, he's fully committed to the team.

“He's also here for the performance. Of course, probably a little bit distracted. But we just focus on the performance side of things.

“And that's how we all work together.”

Jos Verstappen has now made it Max’s business, detracted from that performance focus, and turned suspicions of tensions into evidence of a tangible division in the team. Jos told BBC Sport that Max had seen the comments he made on Saturday night and did not say anything.

It will also not help dissuade many in F1 of the notion that Red Bull’s F1 operation has split into two factions, with the Horner-led Milton Keynes base on one side and the Red Bull parent company’s Austrian contingent led by executive Oliver Mintzlaff (with the Verstappen camp aligned) on the other.

Whatever Red Bull’s response, or Horner’s, it is beginning to look impossible that he will be able to ride out the scrutiny and the speculation without further threats to his leadership.

The leak in Bahrain was widely regarded as a deliberate attempt to destabilise and discredit Horner, rather than seen as an act in the interest of forcing transparency, and Jos Verstappen’s remarks show the fallout has not ended there.

It remains a live and volatile situation. Horner admitted in Bahrain “it’s not been pleasant, the unwanted attention” and that not only continues but has been intensified.

Naïve or not, Horner - and probably Red Bull - will have hoped that the controversy would end with the investigation.

Instead, it is potentially coming to a head in the most destructive way possible.

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