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Parc Ferme: F1's Muddy waters

Parc Ferme: F1’s Muddy waters

Parc Ferme: F1's Muddy waters

The Formula 1 2024 pre-season test in Bahrain is done, and are we any the wiser? Yes and no is probably the best answer.

Ironically, the test felt a bit subdued. What should have been an optimistic awakening of the F1 season felt more like a damp squib, with the Red Bull team supplying the rain cloud.

Bull-y Boy

The Christian Horner “issue” has become an albatross around the neck of F1. In part driven by the initial leaks (from a Dutch source, of course) that he was guilty of “aggressive and controlling behaviour”. Leading many in the pit lane to ask the question: “Is that really a thing in our world?”

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However, the innuendo has now been upgraded to some kind of opaque sexual harassment, which is a look that no one wants. The F1 female patronization department must be in turmoil and will want this all to become yesterday’s news “as soon as”.

No doubt so does the team, the parent company and their prospective 2026 engine partner, Ford. Resulting in the evangelical manufacturer already making veiled suggestions that the wedding could be off if this isn’t sorted soon.

The long goodbye

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 26: Pierre Wache, Chief Engineer of Performance Engineering at Red Bull Racing, Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing Team Consultant Dr Helmut Marko and Red Bull Racing Sporting Director Jonathan Wheatley pose at the Red Bull Racing Team Photo prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on November 26, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Unfortunately for Horner, there is only one stool pigeon in this story, and it’s about to get plucked and roasted. I make this judgement on the basis that the “Good Doctor” is now holding court again with the media, casting aspersion on Sergio Perez’s future and generally looking like a man who will soon be wearing the crown again.

Red Bull needs this done, FOM needs this done, and the team needs this done. Sorry, Christian, it looks like Team Jos wins, and Team Horner members should watch out for an Austrian wearing a dark cloak and holding a scythe.

Mind the Iceberg

Meanwhile, there is calm in the eye of the Red Bull storm. The RB20 test appeared to go by the numbers. Sticking to the script of letting everyone else have some limelight, in particular Ferrari.

I’m sure we were only given a glimpse of its performance tip, with the bulk kept beneath the surface. The whole team oozed confidence and control, calmly going about their work, ticking boxes as Max casually flirted with the top of the timesheet.

The Racing Cash Visa App…Bull

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 22: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Visa Cash App RB VCARB 01 leaves the garage during day two of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on February 22, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202402220430 // Usage for editorial use only //

And the worst sandbagging job goes to… VCARB (nee Alpha Tauri). The RB19.5 is clearly going to be running at the opposite end of the grid to previous years Horner’s statement that “Red Bull’s two teams are separate” is oxymoronic.

They’re about as separate as conjoined twins. “The good Doctor” suggested last year that the experiment in independence was coming to an end. The recent announcement that the team will now move in “Next door” in Milton Keynes makes the statement even more farcical.

Look, look, over there

Like an eager neighborhood watch member, McLaren’s Zak Brown cuts a lonely figure in highlighting this suspicious state of affairs. The pre-season test seems to bear out his concerns. The VARCBs were unable to mask their quantum leap fully in testing, and I expect to see them finishing in the top four regularly this year. Maybe a stupid team name is enough to qualify the VCARBs as unrelated in Red Bull’s world.

Grey arrows

However, the biggest question mark is Mercedes. Their form in testing was somewhat upper mid-field, but there seems to be an air of quiet confidence about them.

Both drivers were “happy” with the W15 driveability, and Toto Wolff was conspicuous by his general lack of anything. Is this an indication of trouble, or have they just not given it full beans yet? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what the weekend brings.