4 Mar 2024

Motor racing Jos Verstappen's outburst raises big questions for Red Bull

11:01 am on 4 March 2024

By Abhishek Takle for Reuters

VERSTAPPEN Max (ned), Red Bull Racing RB18, portrait and his father Jos Verstappen during the Formula 1 Aramco United States Grand Prix 2022, 19th round of the 2022 FIA Formula One World Championship from October 21 to 23, 2022 on the Circuit of the Americas, in Austin, Texas - Photo Xavi Bonilla / DPPI (Photo by Xavi Bonilla / DPPI / DPPI via AFP)

Jos Verstappen (left) and his son Max Verstappen during the Formula 1 Aramco United States Grand Prix 2022. Photo: Xavi Bonilla / DPPI / AFP

Jos Verstappen's call for the sacking of Red Bull Formula One boss Christian Horner has raised questions about his son Max's future just as the team and their triple world champion celebrate a truly crushing win in Bahrain.

Saturday's season-opening race at the Gulf kingdom's Sakhir circuit offered fewer twists and turns, and considerably less drama, than the apparent power play being acted out in the paddock.

What started with misconduct allegations against Horner by a female employee, that he denied and an independent investigation dismissed, has exposed divisions within the sport's most dominant team.

The energy drink brand's majority owner, Thai billionaire Chalerm Yoovidhya, was public in his support of Horner in Bahrain but reports have suggested the Austrian side of the company is less enthusiastic.

Verstappen senior's comments to the Daily Mail, saying Red Bull would 'explode' if Horner stayed, left questions hanging in the air as the circus heads to Saudi Arabia for Saturday's race in Jeddah.

The Daily Telegraph said Verstappen senior was understood to have told friends his son would leave Red Bull if he had to.

Horner, 50, had insisted in Bahrain that the team was more united than ever.

That line was repeated on Sunday, although Verstappen senior was not officially a member of the team.

The overnight outburst, after a widely reported row between Jos and Horner shortly after Friday's qualifying, meanwhile accelerated around the world.

"There is tension here while he remains in position. The team is in danger of being torn apart. It can't go on the way it is. It will explode," the Dutchman told the Daily Mail.

"He is playing the victim, when he is the one causing the problems."

The BBC said Jos Verstappen had confirmed he spoke out after a row with Horner. His son was aware of the comments and had not said anything.

Breaking point

Christian Horner ahead of the Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain on March 2, 2024. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto) (Photo by Jakub Porzycki / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP)

Christian Horner ahead of the Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain on 2 March, 2024. Photo: Jakub Porzycki / NurPhoto / AFP

The face-off took place a day after an email, purporting to contain evidence submitted to the misconduct probe into Horner, was sent anonymously to journalists and key figures in the sport.

Verstappen senior, who was also on the list of recipients, denied being behind it.

Horner, speaking to reporters after the race, would not comment on the motives behind the email.

The question now was whether the tensions, simmering away under the surface for some time, have pushed the team to breaking point and how Max Verstappen, 26, will react.

Horner is the sport's longest-serving team boss, having brought Red Bull into Formula One in 2005, and enjoys a celebrity lifestyle and starring role in the Netflix 'Drive to Survive' docu-series.

Married to Spice Girls singer Geri Halliwell, he led the Milton Keynes-based team to their sixth constructors' title last year with 21 wins from 22 races.

Max won a record 19 races last year and his 55th win on Saturday was a 'grand slam' of pole position, fastest lap and every lap led.

Prodigiously talented, he scored far more points on his own account last season than second placed constructor Mercedes managed with two drivers including seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton.

All his success has come with Red Bull, with whom he has a contract until 2028.

Verstappen could have his pick of teams if he left and once-dominant Mercedes need a replacement for Hamilton who is joining Ferrari in 2025 ahead of a major rule change in 2026.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff was spotted with Jos Verstappen several times in Bahrain, something that might normally not attract attention as old friends but was widely reported this time.

On Saturday, Wolff hailed Verstappen's performance as being in a 'different galaxy' but refused to be drawn on whether he could be a candidate for 2025.

"A driver will always choose the quickest car," he said. "That is fundamentally what it is all about."

- This story was first published by Reuters

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