Has Red Bull reached uneasy truce after conclusion of Christian Horner investigation?

Thomas Maher
Christian Horner, 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Has an uneasy truce been reached at Red Bull following the end of the investigation into Christian Horner?

The ongoing Red Bull saga rumbled on in Saudi Arabia, where the next battle lines were drawn as Max Verstappen made his loyalties to Helmut Marko clear.

With the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend seeing Christian Horner emerge on the other side of Red Bull GmbH’s investigation into his behaviour as team boss, before the furore with Jos Verstappen kicked off, the dynamic changed further in Saudi Arabia as Helmut Marko and Max Verstappen got involved.

Christian Horner responds after Jos Verstappen comments

With the investigation into Horner being dropped by Red Bull preceding the race weekend in Bahrain, the situation was stirred up considerably by Verstappen senior as he called for Horner’s head on the evening after the Grand Prix.

With Red Bull having clinched a dominant 1-2 finish, with Max leading Sergio home to claim maximum points, Jos’ calls for Christian and Red Bull to separate, or risk the team exploding, seemed unusual timing – especially given the rank-and-file employees are believed to have rallied around the team boss.

Heading into Saudi Arabia, the story took a fresh twist as Red Bull Racing confirmed the suspension of the employee who took their grievances against Horner to GmbH in Austria – the grounds for this suspension haven’t been officially confirmed.

Horner appeared before the media for the FIA press conference on Thursday, where he was hit with a barrage of questions about the situation with Jos and the interest from others in having the Red Bull report into his investigation be made more transparent.

Having declined to comment on the employee’s suspension, and clarifying that Jos and himself had spoken – Horner giving all the right PR-friendly answers about looking to the future and trying to move on – it was during this press conference that Horner started to show signs of rallying back against the events of recent weeks.

I wrote recently that Horner had taken his beating and come out the other side of it as he left the paddock in Bahrain last week. He’d appeared older than his 50 years at the Red Bull car launch, his pallor almost that of a man struggling with illness, with all his usual bombastic sass sapped from him – something which hadn’t changed much during the Bahrain weekend.

But, having been asked about the damage done to his reputation, as well as whether he had sympathy for the employee involved, Horner started getting punchy again.

“Well, look, it’s obviously been a very trying period,” he said.

“I’m married and have three children. And when that intrusion includes your children and the scrutiny is placed on my marriage… I’m very fortunate that I have a beautiful family and a very supportive wife. And, you know, I’m the only one that has been named in this. So, of course, it’s very trying.

“It’s very challenging, because when there’s children involved, when there’s families, parents, etcetera, involved, it’s not pretty. And the reality is that there was a grievance that was raised.

“It was dealt with in the most professional manner by the group, not by Red Bull Racing, but by the owners of Red Bull Racing, Red Bull GmbH, that appointed an independent KC that is one of the most reputable KCs in the land.

“He took time to investigate fully, all of the facts. He interviewed all of the people involved, together with others of interest. He looked at everything. He had all of the facts. And he came to a conclusion where he dismissed the grievance.

“As far as I’m concerned, as far as Red Bull is concerned, we move on and we look to the future. And you know, my wife has been phenomenally supportive throughout this, as have my family. But the intrusion on my family is now enough and we need to move forward and to focus on what we’re here for.”

Helmut Marko admits suspension possible as Red Bull GmbH investigation continues

With Horner’s strength rebuilding with every day that passes, and every session that allows him to point towards the dominance of his team, it was Helmut Marko who reignited the furore later that day.

With Red Bull GmbH known to be carrying out an investigation into the source of the media leaks which have caused so many controversies in recent weeks, including the email of alleged information from the investigation which was sent to hundreds of F1 personnel and media, Marko revealed to Austria’s ORF that he couldn’t rule out being suspended himself before the next race in Australia.

Speaking to Sky Germany shortly after, Marko escalated the situation. “There are so many rumours. I don’t really want to say anything about it. There’s so much speculation going around,” he said.

“I have another meeting tomorrow [Friday] and then we’ll see. But as I said, everything has to be right for me to want to continue working here.”

As an employee of GmbH, who acted as an intermediary between the late Dietrich Mateschitz and the Red Bull Racing team, Marko’s importance in building the team from nothing into what it is now can’t be underestimated.

Certainly, Max Verstappen’s loyalties evidently lie far more with Marko than with Horner. While Verstappen never expressly came out in public to denigrate Horner, he also didn’t throw his weight behind his team boss. Contrast that with the stark warning to Red Bull that if Marko isn’t on the team, he won’t be either.

“It’s very important that he stays within the team, including, of course, everyone else, because it’s a whole team effort. It’s very important that we keep the key people together because I feel like if such an important pillar falls away, that’s also what I’ve said to the team, that is not good for my situation as well.

“For me, Helmut has to stay for sure. You know, he has built this team together with Dietrich [Mateschitz, Red Bull co-founder] from day one and he’s always been very loyal to the team, to everyone within the team, to make sure that everyone would keep their positions already from back in the day.

“And I think it’s also very important of course, that you give the man a lot of respect for what he has done and that comes back also to loyalty and integrity.

“So, yeah, for sure, it’s important that he stays part of the team also for me.”

Pressed on if Marko needs to stay to guarantee he’ll see out his own Red Bull contract, Verstappen said: “I’ve always said that to the team, they know that.”

Where was this hard-line loyalty when it came to Horner? Given that it doesn’t appear to have been there, why is it Marko, and not Horner, that Verstappen has hitched his wagon to?

Much has been made of a supposed power struggle between the two sides of Red Bull – Horner having cosied up to the Thai side that is the majority shareholder with a 51 percent stake, potentially what has saved his career.

On the ‘other’ side are the Austrians, 49 percent owners, with CEO Oliver Mintzlaff striding into the paddock on Friday with Marko alongside – a clear statement of alignment, and harmony, given Mintzlaff would likely be the person to suspend Marko if such an event was to happen.

But all appeared calm, as Marko revealed he’d had a good conversation with Mintzlaff about everything: ‘There’s no more rumours, I will stay. I’m very thankful to Max Verstappen for his support. Max is the only person who has this all straight and clear’.”

Sky F1 quickly caught up with Verstappen to ask him whether he was happy to hear that Marko will stay, to which he swiftly and concisely replied: “Absolutely”.

While divided and in crisis at the moment, there’s a very clear understanding that it’s in everyone’s interests to find a common ground to continue working together – after all, what Red Bull has created on track is lightning in a bottle.

Plenty of questions remain after Christian Horner investigation

One of the main questions we’ve had from readers recently is just why this situation has occurred, after so many years of peace and harmony between Red Bull’s top brass. But it appears that, with Mateschitz passing away in late 2022, a power vacuum was created.

Horner is believed to have angled for a stake of the team, akin to what Toto Wolff has with Mercedes, but hasn’t yet achieved that. Rumours abounded in 2023 that he and Marko were no longer on the same page, with a new dynamic evolving between them in the aftermath of Mateschitz’s death.

With simmering tensions under the surface, the spark to blow it up was provided by the investigation into Horner by GmbH and, with Horner having survived and regaining his power, what comes next is down to other parties accepting that outcome.

Will the employee at the heart of the investigation be exonerated as Horner was? Will the person(s) behind the various media leaks – which seemed to be a constant attack on Horner – be uncovered? Will Jos Verstappen be able to accept Horner remaining as team boss? Might Horner get his long-awaited team ownership stake, securing his future beyond being that of a valuable employee?

Perhaps most pertinently of all at this point is, will the things Marko wants changed in order to continue actually happen? For now, having sat down with Mintzlaff in Saudi Arabia, he seems happy to continue and see out his current three-year deal with GmbH.

But is this dependent on some unknown circumstance occurring? After all, if Marko suddenly opts to cut and run from Red Bull, it begs the question of whether the Verstappens will follow suit – blowing up the driver market.

Would Max really walk away from a dominant championship-winning team out of loyalty to Marko?

“I always said that what is most important is that we work together as a team and that everyone keeps the peace,” he said after the race.

“And that’s what we, I think, all agree on within the team. So hopefully from now on, that is also fully the case. Everyone is trying to focus in the same direction. And I think the positive out of all this is that it didn’t hurt our performances. So it’s a very strong team.

“I think also mentally, what you can see from not only driver’s side, but also mechanics, engineers, everyone is there to do their job. And I think everyone, even when there is stuff going on or whatever, they’re just very focused on their job as they should be.”

Certainly, Red Bull has shown its strength in recent weeks. With such monumental distractions and paranoia in the ranks, the team has left just a solitary point on the table from the first two races, and all the signs are pointing towards another utterly dominant season.

With Horner at the centre of the story and regaining his foothold, it appears there’s no option for the other characters in this ongoing drama.

Will an uneasy truce between all the sides be held long enough to allow relationships to rebuild, or will jealousy and bitterness tear apart one of the most dominant F1 empires ever seen?

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