F1 Tension Rises: Red Bull and FIA Face Problems

Photo of Max Verstappen and FIA President in F1 raise tension.

Recalling a time of such tension in the F1 community proves challenging. Despite the start of the new season, conversations have strayed from the usual topics.

The dramatic off-season concluded with the beginning of the Bahrain race, yet its impact continues to resonate throughout the sport. Occurrences like Andretti’s rejection by FOM and the contract extensions of drivers such as Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc now seem distant. Even Lewis Hamilton’s announcement of his move to Ferrari appears like old news.

Subsequent to these developments, turmoil has affected the top contenders in the sport, potentially destabilizing a team that has defined an era. While Red Bull’s car remains formidable, the cohesion within the team is now in doubt.

Despite the investigation into Christian Horner concluding nearly a week ago, the atmosphere remains volatile. The emergence of an anonymous leak of messages purportedly from Horner, which he refutes, has only inflamed tensions further.

Until recently, Red Bull maintained a united front, at least outwardly. However, recent statements from Helmut Marko and Max Verstappen, while not direct criticisms, hardly provided full support for Horner. This dynamic shifted recently.

Jos Verstappen, recognized for prioritizing his family over Red Bull, made significant remarks to the Daily Mail following the Bahrain race, signaling a heightened level of tension within the team.

The 52-year-old suggested that Red Bull would face severe internal issues if Horner remained in his position, even accusing the team principal of portraying himself as a victim despite being responsible for the problems.

These comments intensified the existing pressure. While some criticized Jos, with the British newspaper the i describing him as a “deranged fool,” it appeared to trigger widespread criticism.

Shortly afterward, F1-Insider.com revealed that Max Verstappen had a clause in his contract allowing him to leave Red Bull if Marko were to leave. The 80-year-old exacerbated the situation by indicating he would not oppose Verstappen’s departure.

Day by day, tensions within the Red Bull team seem to be escalating. While majority owner Chalerm Yoovidhya is reportedly backing Horner, there is significant hesitancy within the Austrian contingent. Marko and Adrian Newey have also been reported as advocating for Horner’s departure.

Despite expressing confidence to Sky Sports after the Bahrain victory, Horner’s position seems more uncertain than ever before as the upcoming Saudi race approaches.

Jos Verstappen will remain absent from the paddock; he was already scheduled to miss the Saudi race for a personal commitment but has indicated he won’t return until May. However, Horner is cognizant that there are still detractors within the team.

The team finds itself in an unsustainable situation that must be rectified before it worsens.

Amidst the internal politics, there should be empathy for the female colleague who, unlike many others, bravely voiced her grievances against her male superiors. However, her legitimate concerns have been twisted into a political tool by those seeking to gain power at the expense of others’ dignity.

The FIA president is facing heightened scrutiny following another alleged incident of misconduct. Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the FIA president, is now confronting additional accusations, alongside Horner, who is also facing scrutiny.

As reported by the BBC, there’s an official complaint concerning the actions of the 62-year-old, who is suspected of interfering with a race outcome in 2023. If substantiated, this would not be the first instance of transgression during Ben Sulayem’s tumultuous term.

Since taking office in December 2021, Ben Sulayem has clashed with nearly every major stakeholder. Following the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where rule revisions were deemed necessary, Ben Sulayem’s assertive approach, particularly towards Lewis Hamilton’s jewelry and the apparent double standard regarding Kevin Magnussen’s wedding ring, sparked outrage.

In early 2023, Ben Sulayem incurred the wrath of commercial rights holder Liberty Media by criticizing a Saudi-backed bid for the sport as “inflated.” This drew a rebuke from Liberty Media, reminding Ben Sulayem of the boundaries within F1 and condemning his remarks as “unacceptable.”

Following this, old misogynistic remarks from Ben Sulayem’s personal website, dating back 20 years, resurfaced, expressing contempt for women who perceive themselves as more intelligent than men.

Ben Sulayem was forced to step back from F1 matters, with an unnamed team principal reportedly insisting that the FIA president “must go.”

The controversy momentarily abated until the FIA once again made headlines with an ill-advised investigation into the relationship between Toto and Susie Wolff, prompted by an article from a dubious source within F1 media. Despite its questionable origins, the FIA deemed it worth investigating, causing more harm than good to the organization.

Ben Sulayem’s position was already fragile. While FIA presidencies typically last four years, it seems increasingly improbable that he will complete his term. The FIA compliance office is anticipated to conclude its investigation within four to six weeks, but an unfavorable outcome would likely mark the end of Ben Sulayem’s tenure.

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