Formula 1: What to know as Red Bull threaten to implode

It's the storyline that is dominating Formula 1. Get up to speed with everything you need to know about Red Bull's ongoing "civil war".

Helmut Marko, Max Verstappen, Christian Horner, Red Bull, Formula 1
Helmut Marko, Max Verstappen, Christian Horner, Red Bull, Formula 1 / Clive Rose/GettyImages

The story that has rocked Formula 1 continues to roll on, with almost every day bringing a new wrinkle to the situation surrounding Red Bull and the apparent civil war that is being waged behind closed doors at the six-time Formula 1 constructor-championship winning team.

Let’s take a look at who’s who in this ongoing Formula 1 drama, and assess where they stand as the fallout over the investigation of team principal Christian Horner continues.

We'll start with the man himself.

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

A polarizing character, both inside and outside of the Formula 1 paddock, Horner has been spectacularly successful in his running of Red Bull’s Formula 1 on-track operation. Under his stewardship, the team have won 115 of the 371 races they have started and captured six constructor championships and seven driver championships, with Sebastian Vettel claiming four titles in a row from 2010 to 2013, and Verstappen winning three in the last three seasons (2021 to 2023).

But in early February, it was revealed that Horner was under investigation following allegations of inappropriate behavior toward a female member of staff. An independent inquiry was launched, and Horner was cleared of all wrongdoing, so the case was dismissed.

However, private messages that were alleged to have been exchanged between Horner and the female member of staff were leaked to high-profile figures in Formula 1, as well as numerous members of the media. The legitimacy of these messages has not been officially confirmed, but their circulation on social media has ensured that Horner and Red Bull have not been able to move on from the issue.

Now Horner faces pressure from inside Red Bull, with key figures within the organization either declining to offer their clear backing for the team principal, or directly questioning his continued role within the team.

Horner’s stance has been consistent and bullish, saying, “I think it’s in everybody’s interest, collectively, that we’ve agreed to move on, to focus on the future.”

But from the outside looking in, that statement certainly doesn’t seem to match what we’re seeing, hearing, and reading from other key members of this tumultuous storyline.

Helmut Marko, Senior Advisor, Red Bull Racing

The 80-year-old has been a pivotal figure in the success of Red Bull’s Formula 1 team, and he played a crucial role in signing Max Verstappen to the organization. As such, Helmut Marko has a close relationship with the Verstappen family – so much so, that it has been suggested that Verstappen may have a clause in his contract that allows him to leave if Marko does.

Marko has a history of being outspoken on a number of topics, and there have been rumors of a clash of personalities between the Austrian and team principal Horner, with suggestions of a power struggle behind the scenes at Red Bull. 

Rumors have linked Marko with the leaking of incriminating WhatsApp messages alleged to have been from Horner, and the Austrian openly talked about the possibility about being suspended by the team in Saudi Arabia.

That didn’t happen, and despite attempts to portray a united front, it remains to be seen for how much longer Marko and Horner can coexist under one roof.

Jos Verstappen, father of Max Verstappen and former F1 driver

Never someone to hide his opinion, Max Verstappen’s father Jos has made his position crystal clear. 

He thinks Horner’s position at the team is causing damage, and that he should leave before the team is torn apart. With Horner digging his heels in, there appears to be something of a stand-off between the Verstappen patriarch and the team principal.

Of course, the man caught in the middle is Jos’ son, Max, who just happens to be Red Bull’s star driver and a three-time world champion.

Max Verstappen, three-time world champion and Red Bull's No. 1 driver

Max has to thread the needle and negotiate tricky situations with surgical precision every time he gets behind the wheel of his Red Bull Formula 1 car. And that ability to stay on course while avoiding potential trouble isn’t just being called upon on the track. It’s becoming equally as treacherous off it, now, too.

Verstappen’s job is to drive fast and win races, and he is doing that at an incredibly high level. But his position at Red Bull could change if the team is destabilized to the point that he is no longer happy.

It’s been rumored that Verstappen has a clause in his contract that allows him to leave before its expiry date if team advisor – and close confidant – Helmut Marko departs the team. And with Marko and Horner seemingly at loggerheads amid a behind-the-scenes power struggle at Red Bull, Verstappen has had to face some direct questions about his loyalties within the team.

None of this situation is of Max’s making, and he has negotiated the plethora of press questions with skill and, at times, a smile. Despite being a passenger with regard to the team’s issues, it’s likely that he is very much in control of his future. And with Horner quoted as saying, “we’re not going to force somebody against their will to be here,” that puts the ball firmly in Max’s court. 

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Now we just have to see what the coming days and weeks bring, and whether the team comes together as a unified outfit, or whether it simply implodes.