Did Red Bull overstep the mark with petulant Sky F1 boycott?

Jon Wilde
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. Bahrain March 2022.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner standing behind Sky Sports microphone. Bahrain March 2022.

When a team enjoys a record-breaking season, you would expect the praise to far exceed the inevitable knocks.

Criticism will always come. “You can’t please all of the people all of the time” is a saying that dates back centuries, literally several hundreds of years before Formula 1 existed.

And especially in a sport that now rivals football for the polarisation of its fanbase.

Red Bull have won 16 races in 2022 and could equal McLaren’s record of 11 victories in a row from 1988. They may yet eclipse Mercedes’ highest seasonal total of 765 points, especially with a sprint in Brazil to boost the potential tally.

And, of course, they have one new record in the books already with Max Verstappen having achieved 14 of those 16 wins, one more than the previous benchmark set by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.

But with the events that have unfolded in the last few weeks, there is a pervading feeling that Red Bull have tarnished a campaign that put them indisputably back at the F1 summit.

Much of that relates to the budget-cap furore. Whether you agree with the outcome or not, that has been dealt with by the FIA and the ripples may still be visible in terms of performance next year.

There is another part too, however, and so while all of that was still dominating the headlines, why did Red Bull then risk damaging their reputation further by boycotting Sky Sports at the Mexican Grand Prix?

That decision boiled down to comments reportedly made on Sky about last season’s Abu Dhabi title decider, with use of the word “robbed” in relation to Lewis Hamilton as he was pipped to a record-breaking eighth crown by Verstappen.

Robbed by whom? Verstappen? Red Bull? No. Nobody could suggest they did anything wrong on the day, they simply tried to win a race and succeeded. It was the decisions made in Race Control, that gave them the chance to do so, that were questionable.

Was it really a good enough reason though to give the sport’s premier broadcaster – not only their English language version but the German and Italian branches too – the silent treatment for a whole race weekend?

Silly, petty and unnecessary are words that spring to mind.

Christian Horner pleaded the case for the defence by saying: “There needs to be balance in commentary. Some of the commentary is excellent but some of the pieces, there’s too much sensationalism.

“We just want to set an example and show some things are not acceptable.

“I think an accusation of championships being robbed is something we don’t feel is an impartial commentary.

“Max was very upset about it and as a team, we support him fully. We were equally upset about it. As a team, we took the decision – I took the decision – that we’d have a weekend off.”

Now, some would say it was no bad thing for Horner to have a weekend off from Sky duties for he appears on there so often he could be mistaken for one of the presenters.

There often appears to be a cosy relationship between the Red Bull team principal and certain individuals – if we mentioned the word ‘lederhosen’ you may well understand the reference.

Which makes this scenario seem all the dafter when you can, with confidence, run a sweep on the number of times Horner will appear on Sky at Interlagos and exclude any figure lower than three.

And it’s not as if there appears to be any long-standing beef between Verstappen and the reporter in question, Ted Kravitz.

When Kravitz was conducting pre-event interviews in Austin with a gravelly voice, Verstappen, not exactly renowned for off-the-cuff quips with the media, smiled and joked: “Have you been in the pub?”

Of course, timing could be key in this whole episode. It is surely no coincidence that it blew up in the wake of the cost-cap saga, perhaps to deflect attention away from that.

Such a move is time-honoured in sport and there may also be a sense of the ‘siege mentality’ about it.

At least it is only “a weekend off” rather than the seven years for which former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson gave the BBC the cold shoulder.

None of this reflects well on Red Bull though, especially having occurred the weekend after the death of the company’s founder, Dietrich Mateschitz.

They should rightly be applauded for the season they have compiled, mastering the new technical regulations and putting early reliability problems with their cars behind them to completely dominate on track.

It is fine to object to cases of perceived bias. Was this really anti-Red Bull though, or anti-FIA? Either way, the boycott seems like a sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut approach.

You cannot please everyone all of the time, that is true.

But there is no harm in trying just that little bit harder.

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