What the F1 is going on ahead of Saudi Arabian GP

Off track news is dominating F1 ahead of the 2024 Saudi Arabian GP

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Politics and power struggles is nothing new in Formula 1 but the start of this 2024 season has been messy to say the least. On the track, Max Verstappen picked up where he left off with a perfect weekend in Bahrain but off it, where do we even start?

Saudi Arabia hosts the second round of the season this week, another Saturday race don’t forget, and the saga surrounding allegations of inappropriate behaviour against Christian Horner has taken a new turn of events following comments from Jos Verstappen.

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has also come under the spotlight for allegedly interfering with an F1 race in 2023 and has been accused of telling officials not to certify the Las Vegas Grand Prix circuit.

Two of F1’s biggest figures and huge stories that are probably bigger than the on-track action. You just have to ask yourself what’s going to happen next?

All eyes on Verstappen and Horner in pressers

During second practice at the Bahrain GP, 149 journalists and F1 personnel were sent an anonymous email link with messages purporting to involve Horner. This came 24 hours after Red Bull’s investigation into Horner concluded as he continued in his role as team principal and CEO of the F1 team.

Following Red Bull’s 1-2 in Bahrain, multiple interviews with Jos Verstappen emerged where he suggested Horner should walk away from the team.

Max Verstappen and Jos Verstappen ahead of 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“The team is in danger of being torn apart,” Verstappen told The Daily Mail. “It can’t go on the way it is. It will explode. He is playing the victim, when he is the one causing the problems.”

Jos Verstappen, a former F1 driver himself from 1994 to 2003, also denied he was the source of the leaks.

“Why would I do that?” he told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf. “Max has a contract with Red Bull until 2028, is performing great and feels at home here. I have no interest in that at all.”

Further reports have revealed Verstappen has been spending a lot of time with the woman who made the inappropriate behaviour allegations against Horner, who has been in charge of Red Bull since the F1 team formed in 2005.

There is also talk that Helmut Marko is not on Horner’s side, with talk of a rift between the pair already being a theme throughout 2023. Different views on Sergio Perez’s performance may have played a role there.

Then you have the Red Bull GmbH shareholders and majority owner Chalerm Yoovidhya is believed to be a Horner supporter, with the Thai standing under the podium alongside Christian Horner and Geri Horner in Bahrain.

Bahrain GP 2024 winner Max Verstappen and Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner celebrate | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

It’s not completely known where the other shareholder, Mark Mateschitz, stands on Horner but Red Bull managing director Oliver Mintzlaff wanted the F1 team principal out when the investigation began.

Jos Verstappen and Geri Horner are set to not be in Jeddah this week but Horner will be in the team bosses press conference on Thursday in between practice one and two.

Max Verstappen has media duties on Wednesday and there is huge intrigue about whether the three-time world champion comments on his father’s fiery words.

Ben Sulayem also under investigation

Another big story this week surrounds Ben Sulayem after a whistleblower accused the FIA president of allegedly overturning a penalty for Fernando Alonso at the 2023 Saudi Arabian GP.

Alonso was initially given a 10-second time penalty for not serving a penalty properly as the rear jack man touched his car during a pit stop. However, Aston Martin appealed and the penalty was removed, so Alonso took third place.

The claim is in a report by an FIA compliance officer to its ethics committee, which has been seen by BBC Sport.

The whistleblower also claims Ben Sulayem told officials to not certify the Las Vegas GP circuit. It’s not known why the FIA president allegedly wanted this.

Sprint winner Oscar Piastri of McLaren, 2nd placed Max Verstappen of Red Bull and third placed Lando Norris of McLaren with Stefano Domenicali, CEO of the Formula One Group, and Mohammed ben Sulayem, FIA President after the Qatar Grand Prix Sprint Race | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“From a sporting and safety perspective, the Las Vegas circuit approval followed FIA protocol in terms of inspection and certification,” said an FIA spokesperson.

“If you recall, there was a delay in the track being made available for inspection due to ongoing local organiser construction works.”

Ben Sulayem took over Jean Todt as FIA president in December 2021 and has been subject to numerous controversies including making misogynistic remarks on a historical website, initially blocking the idea to increase the number of Sprint weekends to six in a season.

He was also criticised in December 2022 when the FIA launched an inquiry into Toto and Susie Wolff due to a conflict of interest. The inquiry was withdrawn within 48 hours after all teams stated they did not make any complains.

John Smith
John Smithhttps://total-motorsport.com
Editor at Total-Motorsport.com and all round Motorsport journalist specialising in Formula 1, IndyCar and Formula E.
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