Five big Saudi Grand Prix questions: Christian Horner, Red Bull and more talking points

Thomas Maher
An illuminated sign for Jeddah at the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Here are the main questions on everyone's mind as F1 heads to the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

With the Bahrain GP done and dusted, it’s time to get stuck straight into the second race of the season as F1 decamps to Saudi Arabia.

F1 heads to Jeddah for the fourth race to be held on the uber-fast street circuit around the Corniche that plays host to the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, for another night race. Here are the big questions that, hopefully, might be answered this weekend.

Will the Christian Horner saga finally be behind us?

Probably not, in fairness, as the fallout from Red Bull GmbH’s decision to drop their investigation into the F1 team boss has triggered waves of speculation and rumours over the past week.

Officially, the matter is concluded – Horner has been exonerated, and anything further is something for the people in his personal life to worry about.

But, whether or not the email sent to members of the media last week claiming to have the evidence submitted during the investigation is real or not, it’s clear that someone, somewhere, isn’t happy that Horner has remained in his job.

Will the matter get murkier or messier this weekend? After all, a second email drop was threatened – but never arrived. There’s also the small matter of Jos Verstappen, Max’s father, calling for Horner’s head in order to improve matters.

Does Max agree with his father’s call? If he does, then it’s hard to see how the status quo can remain. If he doesn’t, then what stance does Red Bull take in dealing with such a public display of a lack of confidence in Horner from Verstappen’s camp?

Will Red Bull’s RB20 be the star performer once again?

As feared after a feeling that Red Bull never fully let the RB20 off the leash again following its incredible first day of pre-season testing, Red Bull’s RB20 proved untouchable in Bahrain, with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez bringing home a 1-2.

With Perez slicing through the field from fifth place to slot in behind the extremely comfortable Verstappen, it proved the realisation of those fears, but that isn’t to say there isn’t yet any hope.

Red Bull had the measure of everyone in Bahrain last year as well and, so far, F1 2024 only has the sample size of one singular track – the Bahrain International Circuit playing to the strengths of Red Bull’s offerings.

But the Jeddah Corniche is a very different beast – with nothing but high-speed swoops and sweeps that demand low-drag aerodynamic efficiency as well as insane bravery and commitment from the drivers.

Can Ferrari get in the mix and upset the apple cart with a stronger showing? What of Mercedes’ W15 as Brackley continues to figure out its new philosophy machine?

There’s no need for glum acceptance of Red Bull’s dominance just yet, until the car has been seen in action at a wider variety of circuits. After all, with Red Bull having taken on a new philosophy of their own, who is to say that the team won’t be caught out by something unforeseen? recommends

The F1 2024 Drivers’ Championship standings without Max Verstappen

Red Bull’s internal war: Christian Horner is under attack and rivals are ready to pounce

Can the FIA shake off its latest controversies?

Just after the Bahrain Grand Prix, the BBC reported that two allegations have been lodged with the FIA’s compliance officer involving President Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

These included Ben Sulayem allegedly making a request to have a time penalty handed out by the stewards to Fernando Alonso in last year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix be overturned, as well as him allegedly requesting an issue be found to prevent the new Las Vegas GP circuit from being homologated to Grade 1 status.

The latter is particularly contentious, given that the Las Vegas GP was pulled together entirely by FOM/Liberty Media. If the FIA President is found to have attempted to have tried to interfere with the smooth running of the corporation’s first self-made Grand Prix, it won’t do much to improve the already occasionally tetchy relationship between the two bodies.

“The FIA confirms that the Compliance Officer has received a report detailing potential allegations involving certain members of its governing bodies,” a statement from the governing body stated on Tuesday night.

“The Compliance Department is assessing these concerns, as is common practice in these matters, to ensure that due process is meticulously followed.”

It’s the latest storm Ben Sulayem has found himself at the centre of, following on from last year’s controversy when misogynistic comments were found published on his now-offline website from 20 years ago, as well as when he irked F1 by posting on social media about the financial value of F1 following a report that Saudi Arabia’s PIF (Public Investment Fund) had attempted to purchase F1 for $20 billion.

Can Alpine turn things around fast?

While the performance level of Alpine’s A524 wasn’t expected to be amazing in Bahrain, the extent to which the usually upper-midfield team have fallen over the winter was brought into sharp focus as Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly struggled to escape the very back of the grid.

On pace, given there were issues for others that finished near the bottom of the race classification, the Alpine was the slowest car of all and, unsurprisingly for a team constantly switching things up, those aforementioned things have duly been switched up.

Technical director Matt Harman and head of aerodynamics Dirk de Beer have both left the team, apparently of their own volition, with Alpine announcing a new triumvirate of technical staff – copying the approach taken by McLaren last year.

Less familiar names Joe Burnell and David Wheater will oversee engineering and aerodynamics, respectively, while Ciaron Pilbeam will lead the performance department, and will all report to team boss Bruno Famin – the Frenchman himself only moving into that role a little over six months ago.

Having not had much success with big names like Cyril Abiteboul, Davide Brivio, Marcin Budkowski, Alain Prost, Alan Permane, Laurent Rossi and Otmar Szafnauer, all falling on their swords or quitting in recent years, can the new trio make an immediate impression and start hauling the Enstone-based squad forward?

Will the RB drivers’ infighting continue?

With a Red Bull F1 seat potentially up for grabs in 2025, both Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda have laid out their stall that they want the seat should the Milton Keynes-based squad opt against continuing with Sergio Perez.

This means that, while team-mates, the pair view each other as direct rivals in a shootout for that alluring seat – and that rivalry instantly became apparent in Bahrain.

Ordered to move aside for Daniel Ricciardo as the Australian approached on fresh soft tyres, Tsunoda argued with the fieriness that one has come to expect from the Japanese driver. But, reluctantly, he obeyed.

However, after the race, he showed his temper by playing fast and loose with his brakes by sliding past Ricciardo in anger, before aggressively overtaking on the slowdown lap – he couldn’t hide his annoyance when speaking to media after, while Ricciardo remained restrained and simply dubbed it ‘immature’.

With Ricciardo coming out the net winner, in terms of on-track result and from a PR perspective, let’s see if Tsunoda can keep things calmer this weekend in Saudi Arabia.

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