Max Verstappen ‘fully focused on car’ amid latest Christian Horner allegations

Red Bull’s superstar driver Max Verstappen stopped short of providing his full support for embattled team principal Christian Horner.

Verstappen temporarily took the spotlight off Horner – whose Formula One future is again in the spotlight after hundreds of WhatsApp messages appearing to be written by him to a female colleague were leaked – when the Dutchman secured pole position for Saturday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

But moments after capturing top spot, Verstappen was quizzed on how the latest allegations surrounding Red Bull had affected his preparations, and if Horner remains the right person to lead the crisis-hit team.

Bahrain Grand Prix – Practice Day – Bahrain International Circuit
Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen (left) embraces team principal Christian Horner (David Davies/PA)

“From my side, and, from the mechanics and engineers, we’re fully focused on the car, and fully focused on the weekend which is how it should be and that is what we continue to do,” said Verstappen.

Appearing to swerve the question about Horner, he added: “It’s not our business to get involved in that. We are paid to do our job, that is what we are out there doing, and that is what we love doing and that is what I focus on.”

Verstappen was asked again if he still had faith in Horner.

“When I look at how Christian operates within the team he has been an incredible boss so from the performance kind of things you can’t question that,” he added.

“I speak to Christian a lot and he is fully committed to the team.

“He is here for the performance, and of course he is a little bit distracted, but we just focus on performance and that is how we all work together.”

On Wednesday, Horner was cleared to continue as Red Bull team principal following an internal probe into “inappropriate behaviour” by the F1 team’s parent company, Red Bull GmbH. He has always denied the claims.

But just 24 hours later, a number of messages and images apparently exchanged between Horner and the complainant were sent from an anonymous email account to 149 members of the F1 paddock – including FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem, F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali and the grid’s nine other team principals, as well as members of the media.

Domenicali and Ben Sulayem spoke on Friday to discuss the next steps.

Horner’s wife, Geri Halliwell, flew to Bahrain and could be with her husband at Saturday’s race. Chalerm Yoovidhya, who owns 51 per cent of the Red Bull group, might also be in attendance.

Neither F1’s American owners, Liberty Media, nor its regulator, the FIA, have seen Red Bull GmbH’s report into Horner, which is thought to stretch to 150 pages and was said to be “confidential”.

The FIA considered the legalities of asking Red Bull to hand over its report, and examining if Horner might have breached two clauses of its International Sporting Code.

Article 12.2.1.c of the code states that a competitor will have committed an offence if there was “any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any Competition or to the interests of motor sport generally”.

Bahrain Grand Prix – Qualifying Day – Bahrain International Circuit
Christian Horner’s future in Formula One has dominated headlines (David Davies/PA)

Article 12.2.1.f highlights “any words, deeds or writings that have caused moral injury or loss to the FIA, its bodies, its members or its executive officers, and more generally on the interest of motor sport and on the values defended by the FIA”.

Meanwhile, article 12.2.1.g states that “any failure to cooperate in an investigation” would breach the code.

However, the likelihood of any action receded as another extraordinary day – which included speculation that another damning email leak would arrive but never did – wore on.

Horner spoke only once about the latest allegations as he made his way from Red Bull’s hospitality suite to the team’s garage earlier on Friday.

“I am not going to comment on anonymous speculation from unknown sources,” he said. When asked what comes next, Horner replied: “We go racing.