Christian Horner fighting for F1 future as Verstappen says he is ‘distracted’

<span>Christian Horner is under increased pressure after messages were leaked to the press.</span><span>Photograph: David Davies/PA</span>
Christian Horner is under increased pressure after messages were leaked to the press.Photograph: David Davies/PA

Christian Horner was on Friday night still fighting for his future in Formula One but remained insistent he was going nowhere as the furore around his exoneration, after a complaint about his behaviour from a female Red Bull employee, continued to dominate the agenda at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Notably after qualifying however, his world champion driver, Max ­Verstappen, who had claimed pole for the opening race of the season, first declined to express his confidence in Horner and when pushed on the subject stated he had faith in Horner’s role from a “performance” perspective and suggested he was “probably a bit distracted”.

Related: Christian Horner back in eye of F1 storm after email leaks alleged messages

Only 24 hours after the Red Bull team principal had been cleared of the allegations against him following an independent investigation, an email was leaked to the media, F1, the FIA and teams of images purporting to show messages between Horner and the employee who made the complaint alleging inappropriate, controlling behaviour against him.

Its veracity has not been confirmed, nor has whether the ­messages were included in the investigation, but the impact on the sport has been immense.

When asked about it on Friday, Horner stuck to his guns. “I am not going to comment on ­anonymous speculation from unknown sources,” he said. When asked what would happen next he replied: “We go racing.”

Verstappen twice declined to express his confidence in Horner at a press conference on Wednesday. Asked again after qualifying he once more sidestepped the question. When pushed he responded: “When I look at how Christian operates within the team, he has been an incredible team boss, so absolutely, from the performance side of things, you can’t even question that.

“I speak to Christian a lot, and also throughout the weekend here, he’s fully committed to the team, he’s also here for the performance. Of course he’s probably a little bit distracted. But we just focus on the performance side of things.”

Horner, however, has made it clear he does not intend to step down as principal of the team he has led since it was formed in 2005, given that he has been cleared by the investigation. He is understood to still have the backing of the Thai wing of Red Bull led by Chalerm Yoovidhya, the son of the company’s founder, Chaleo, who owns a 51% share of the company. He is set to attend the race on Saturday as is Horner’s wife, Geri Halliwell-Horner.

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The investigation by an external barrister ended with the complaint being dismissed by Red Bull Racing’s parent company, Red Bull GmbH, which announced Horner had been cleared of the allegations on Wednesday. However, following Thursday’s dramatic email, the 50-year-old held talks in person with the head of the FIA, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, as the governing body considers how to respond to the developments.

The FIA and F1 are understood to be in close discussions to assess the impact of the furore on the sport as they face increasing calls to act. The F1 chief executive, Stefano Domenicali, and Ben Sulayem were expected to meet on Friday in Bahrain to consider further action.

It is understood the FIA is set to formally request a copy of the investigation from Red Bull GmbH and is believed to be considering the impact on the sport given its regulatory position and its sporting code which specifically addresses ­bringing the sport into disrepute.

Related: Horner exonerated but Red Bull’s lack of transparency does F1 no favours | Giles Richards

Article 12.2.1 f states: “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.”

Neither the FIA nor F1 have made any official comment on the investigation or its aftermath as they have not seen the report, which Red Bull GmbH has said it will not release to protect the confidentiality of those involved. F1 is understood to be ­seeking clarity from Red Bull Racing and Red Bull GmbH amid disquiet at the negative impact the process is having on the sport.

On Thursday the McLaren team principal, Zak Brown, and the ­Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, called for the FIA and F1 to insist on transparency from Red Bull.

There is concern, too, that events are reflecting badly on Red Bull’s commercial partners, who are also expected to seek clarification and resolution from the team. Ford, which is set to join Red Bull as an engine partner in 2026, has made clear its displeasure at the lack of transparency and the public perception of what has transpired but has yet to respond to a request for comment.