Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe

How latest twist to Red Bull F1 drama exposes dirty war at the top

The revelation that Red Bull stalwart Helmut Marko could be forced out of the Formula 1 team over suspected media leaks is the latest twist in an incredible saga.

Helmut Marko, Consultant, Red Bull Racing, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, 2nd position, Adrian Newey, Chief Technology Officer, Red Bull Racing, celebrate in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

But beyond the impact of what could be a significant change at the top, the development has shone a spotlight on what now appears to be a war for control of the squad.

What originally started as the story of an isolated complaint by a female employee against the behaviour of Red Bull boss Christian Horner, has morphed into a fight that could well decide the fate of the F1 team itself.

With Marko almost certain to learn his future on Saturday, when he meets with Red Bull CEO Oliver Mintzlaff, any move to suspend him or hasten his retirement could well trigger the exit of Max Verstappen before his current contract expires. And where would all that leave Adrian Newey?

It is a situation that could lead to the whole house of cards tumbling down, as the key pillars that have helped turn Red Bull into a dominant force are potentially pulled away.

Where things go from here is hard to predict right now, but what is significant is how the latest drama surrounding Marko has exposed perhaps best what has really been going on behind the scenes.

It’s been clear since the Bahrain Grand Prix – when anonymous emails were sent to senior F1 personnel of alleged evidence at the heart of the Horner investigation – that there were dark forces at play here.

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Shameem Fahath

Information had already been leaking out for weeks in various publications, which are known to have close affiliations with certain figures within the Red Bull organisation.

The leaks included alleged evidence and information regarding details of the case, as well as letters sent from interested parties that could only have been seen by a limited number of people.

Then there was that anonymous email dossier of files that was sent out in Bahrain, which was deliberately designed to embarrass Horner and potentially push Red Bull to rethink its decision to support him and dismiss the evidence against him.

Those emails proved a dirty war was in play, but equally they exposed a few clues about who was behind things and why all was not as it seemed.

The alleged evidence of messages provided inconsistencies, and as Red Bull and F1's own IT experts got to work in trying to trace the email sender back to an IP address, even though VPNs were in play, it is understood there were other significant clues given away about the culprit.

There was the way the list of email recipients was formatted, which included two spelling mistakes – ‘Hass’ and ‘Dominecali’ – and the choice of personal or business addresses also offered insights about where things could have been coming from.

Plus, there is talk that further correspondence from the anonymous email address may also have offered giveaways in terms of the framing of certain words.

Dr. Helmut Marko, Consultant, Red Bull Racing, Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Dr. Helmut Marko, Consultant, Red Bull Racing, Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Erik Junius

Whether all the leaks and the emails over the past few weeks have come from one individual, different people or is a co-ordinated effort from the group, has not been made public.

However, what is certain is that it shows that a conspiracy has been afoot to get Horner out.

As Horner himself said in Saudi Arabia on Thursday: "Others have looked to take advantage of it.

"Unfortunately, Formula 1 is a competitive business. And there's been, obviously, elements [that] have looked to benefit from it. And that's perhaps the not-so-pretty side of our industry."

That the situation now appears to involve Marko suggests it is no longer a case of this being just about personal grievance, nor of a plot to get better contractual terms.

This more and more looks like a fight for control of the F1 team, amid the power vacuum that was left after Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz died over the 2022 United States Grand Prix weekend.

Since then, Horner and Marko fought for the attention of Mintzlaff under the new post-Mateschitz structure – and the divisions were clear.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, with Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, with Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Rewind to the build-up to Austin last year where Marko made some very pointed remarks about his future and who was running things.

“I have a contract until the end of 2024 and in the end it's the shareholders' decision, not Christian Horner's, and in the end it's me who decides,” he told Autosport sister site Motorsport-Total.com.

Marko did get a fresh contract last winter, but there have been suggestions it was not on as favourable terms as before – which further fuelled ill feeling.

Although the underlying tensions between Red Bull’s two key players were no secret, Horner clearly was still able to abide by having Marko remain in the team because there was value to his input, and there were elements to his behaviour that filled in gaps he didn’t like. It is always wise to keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.

But it now looks like, as Horner strengthened his power base inside Red Bull (having been key to the relaunch plans of the RB operation, and the creation of Red Bull Powertrains), so too did that increase unease from Marko about him losing the control he had before.

So, when a door of opportunity opened up earlier this year to expose Horner amid the complaint launched against him, it was perhaps inevitable that it would be seized as an opportunity by some to get him moved on.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, with his father Jos Verstappen

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, with his father Jos Verstappen

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

And any moves to change things at the top appear to have had the support of the Verstappen camp, which has been heavily aligned with Marko over all that has gone on.

It was very telling that straight after Verstappen jumped out the car in qualifying and was asked about Marko’s original ORF remarks that he would not have seen himself, the Dutchman offered the kind of lengthy monologue response that often only comes from being well briefed.

Verstappen was even stronger in his defence of Marko in television interviews later in the evening, saying he will “absolutely” do everything he can to keep him in his job.

Asked specifically if it was a case of him leaving if Marko was pushed out, Verstappen said: “Then we might have a big problem in the team. Yes.”

With father Jos Verstappen having dropped the bombshell after Bahrain about his fears of the team ‘exploding’ if Horner remains, the alliance between the driver camp and Marko is obvious.

And Verstappen Sr has shown no signs of backing away from his belief that Red Bull will be damaged if Horner stays.

Speaking to The Daily Mail on Saturday, he said: “I think it's too late for Christian to say 'leave me alone'. But he has the support of the Thai owner so I think he will stay for the rest of the season.

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Motorsport Images

"I said it would bad if he stayed, it really isn't good for the team, this whole situation."

With Marko/Verstappen in one camp, and Horner now clearly in the other, the town is probably no longer big enough for both of them.

There is a big call for Red Bull and Mintzlaff to now make. All eyes will be on the team’s motorhome in Saudi Arabia and whether, tonight, we see one of the squad’s chiefs walk out the paddock for the final time.

Be part of the Autosport community

Join the conversation
Previous article Hamilton: F1 debut at 18 would have hurt my career
Next article Why Verstappen's Red Bull F1 fate is tied to Marko's

Top Comments

There are no comments at the moment. Would you like to write one?

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe