Christian Horner back in F1 paddock amid scrutiny over his Red Bull future

Embattled Red Bull team principal Christian Horner is back in the Formula One paddock for qualifying ahead of Saturday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

Horner’s future is again in the spotlight after hundreds of WhatsApp messages appearing to be written by him to a female colleague were leaked.

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.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, in the paddock on Friday, has denied claims of “inappropriate behaviour” (David Davies/PA)

But just 24 hours later, messages and a number of 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 CEO Stefano Domenicali and the grid’s nine other team principals, as well as members of the media – on the eve of this weekend’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Horner said in a statement: “I will not comment on anonymous speculation, but to reiterate I have always denied the allegations.

“I respected the integrity of the independent investigation and fully cooperated with it every step of the way.

“It was a thorough and fair investigation conducted by an independent specialist barrister and it has concluded dismissing the complaint made.

“I remain fully focused on the start of the season.”

Max Verstappen (left) and Christian Horner
Horner embraces triple world champion Max Verstappen (David Davies/PA)

On Friday, Horner, 50, was seen speaking to a Formula One official at the front of Red Bull Racing’s hospitality suite.

As Horner made his way to practice he added: “I am not going to comment on anonymous speculation from unknown sources.” When asked what comes next he replied: “We go racing.”

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

Domenicali and Ben Sulayem are due to meet later on Friday to discuss the next steps.

It is believed that the FIA is considering 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 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”.

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.

Third practice begins at 3:30pm local time (12:30pm GMT), with qualifying for Saturday’s 57-lap race due to get under way at 7pm (4pm GMT).