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Formula 1 Australian GP

Horner denies Russell's Red Bull F1 sandbagging claims

Red Bull Formula 1 boss Christian Horner has denied suggestions from George Russell that the championship-leading team has been sandbagging.

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Russell said in Melbourne that Red Bull has been “holding back” and not showing its full pace at the moment out of fear that rivals might find a way to rein it in through rule changes.

Red Bull has won all three races held so far in 2023, with the first two events both resulting in 1-2 finishes.

In the Australian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen stayed around 10-12 seconds clear of runner-up Lewis Hamilton for much of the race, while his team-mate Sergio Perez recovered to fifth after starting from the pitlane.

“For sure they’re holding back,” Russell told BBC 5 Live in Melbourne. “They’re almost embarrassed to show their full potential because the faster they seem globally the more the sport is going to try to hold them back somehow.

“I think, realistically, they probably have seven-tenths advantage over the rest of the field. Max has got no reason to be pushing it, nor has Red Bull.

“They have done a really great job, we can’t take that away, and we clearly have to up our game.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images

Horner laughed off Russell’s suggestion of sandbagging and stressed that it was inevitable there was some tyre management in Melbourne, especially given that - like its rivals - both Red Bull drivers made early tyre changes.

“That’s very generous of him,” he said, when told of Russell’s comments. “I mean, his team would know all too well about those kinds of advantages.

“There’s always an element of managing that goes on in any race. You could see because it was a one-stop race and a very early one-stop race, there was an element of tyre management that was going on, which is what they were doing.

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“Checo wasn’t hanging about, he wasn’t cruising round holding back seven tenths a lap because he didn’t want to show it. The grid was certainly a little bit closer at this venue.”

Regarding the specifics of Melbourne form, he added: “We’ve obviously weighted the car towards the race rather than qualifying. You can see perhaps the cars that warmed up their tyres more aggressively suffered a bit more in the race.”

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