Editor's Desk: What brought about the Red Bull implosion?

Editor’s Desk: What brought about the Red Bull implosion?

Editor's Desk: What brought about the Red Bull implosion?

Red Bull Racing have been in the headlines before even the 2024 Formula 1 season started, for reasons which are more negative than positive.

The manner in which the situation at Red Bull Racing has unraveled in the past month or so has been nothing short of shocking; starting with the Christian Horner investigation with all its ramifications, followed by the Max and Jos Verstappen show, then the brief Helmut Marko probe that ended before it even started.

However, the overall state of affairs within the reigning F1 Champions’ squad is far from being settled, despite word that Oliver Mintzlaff (Red Bull GmbH Executive) and Co have called for calm over the three days of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

News of Red Bull Racing suspending the female complainant, and recent reports that she has decided to appeal the company’s verdict will no doubt send the team into further turmoil, keeping in mind that the protagonists in the knife fight are not backing down yet.

But all the above has been excessively reported and analyzed in all media outlets, some reporting professionally and objectively, but others sadly in a manner that has nothing to do with journalism or professionalism, as it seems these days, using the words “alleged” or “reported” are a free pass to say whatever you want after them, no matter how ridiculous, inaccurate, or atrocious that may be, depending on unnamed and unverified so called “sources”.

But how has the Red Bull Racing situation come to this?

This is not what this article is about, as I am trying to look at the Red Bull conundrum from another angle: Why or how has the situation come to this?

Red Bull have shown over the years that they are a coherent team that operates at a very high level on all fronts, and even when their cars (power units not chassis) were not competitive, all other departments delivered faultlessly in terms of drivers, strategies, pitstops, race execution… You name it.

So when they finally had the best package in 2022 with the new “ground effect” regulations, with fast cars being the final piece of the puzzle, we have all witnessed the extent of their domination with two record-breaking years in a row, while 2024 for now not bucking the trend.

Their management has been firm and efficient with Horner running the day to day operations and development of the team, Marko managing the drivers’ talent pool and the politicking, while Adrian Newey has been given a haven to do what he does best, designing fast cars. Jos Verstappen has also been kept in check.

Red Bull’s arch-rivals, Mercedes, even adopted a similar management structure on their way to domination with Toto Wolff and the late Niki Lauda operating in a similar fashion to Horner and Marko.

Everything was running like clockwork, as everyone showed up to work and did what he or she did best, nothing more, nothing less.

But somewhere down the road this changed, and it seems that individuals with the team, and here we mean the top management, have fancied a look at what their peers have been doing and maybe started overstepping their bounds.

It’s just a feeling

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 09: Oracle Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner and Oracle Red Bull Racing Team Consultant Dr Helmut Marko look on in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 09, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

This hint or feeling came about the other day when Editor in Chief, Paul Velasco and I, were discussing a couple of articles about Marko talking drivers – Verstappen and Sergio Perez, then Daniel Ricciardo, and we remembered how good (albeit ruthless) the Austrian is in spotting, analyzing, and managing drivers. A trait of his that has been overshadowed recently as he became part of the backstabbing behind the Red Bull scenes.

The discussion then moved on to how great a manager Horner was, building Red Bull Racing from the remains of the Jaguar F1 operation, and now enjoying the second success streak in the team’s relatively short history.

And while Jos Verstappen has to be commended for developing Max into the driver he is today, whether we agree with his methods or not, he should not be meddling with the team’s strategy decisions like he did in Moncaco-2022 when he claimed that the team favored Perez over his son, and lately his interference in the Horner debacle calling for his departure – one can only imagine how much more he has done during is everlasting presence and which has not been revealed.

While I have previously said that keeping a team together and sharp during a streak is not easy, but something that Horner and Co have managed, it seems that, and it’s just a feeling, that all the success has led to complacency and maybe restlessness, that people started trying to do more that they should be.

The Horner saga with the female employee – regardless of what actually happened – shows that the Briton has dropped the ball, it couldn’t have happened had he been laser focused and sharp.

The fact that Marko was drawn into the whole situation also showed he has been no angel in the whole fiasco, and the sorry state of the Red Bull driver development program shows the focus of the Good Doctor (I borrow this from GrandPrix247’s Sean Stevens) is not fully on spotting talent.

Do I even need to say anything about Jos The Boss? Max saying who stays and who goes for him to keep driving for Red Bull is also an overstep from the Champ.

An eye opener

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 09: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing and Second placed Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 09, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Now I may be wrong here, but an eye opener was the latest season of Drive To Survive. Now the Netflix series has become a bit boring but the sixth season has shed some interesting highlights, and not only at Red Bull.

Horner seemed to be calling the shots regarding Ricciardo’s return to AlphaTauri (now RB), and he was even the one who broke the news to Liam Lawson that he won’t be given a full time drive despite his impressive performance replacing Ricciardo when the Honey Badger amateurishly broke his hand in Zandvoort practice.

Horner was talking to Ricciardo’s manager, and RB CEO Peter Bayer with Marko nowhere to be seen. Maybe Marko did not want to feature on the show. Maybe he had discussed it with Horner prior to that? But maybe Horner was muscling his way into these decisions, and we know how much he likes Ricciardo.

Horner should ultimately have a say in who drives a Red Bull, but does his jurisdiction include the Faenza-based junior team?

I do not know, but these are valid questions that may be key when we try to understand how Red Bull Racing imploded.

Everyone at Red Bull should go back to doing what they do. That formula clearly worked. Horner should focus on running the team, while Marko returns to his role of spotting and developing talent, not to mention the mischievous soundbites he sends out every now and then – classic Marko stuff.

As for Max, he should just focus on driving the wheels off an Newey-designed machine at his disposal. Jos on the other hand should go back to doing what he does best, well let’s not go there, and maybe he shouldn’t, but one thing for sure, he should do whatever he wants as far as possible from the Red Bull garage.

Plain and simple, the Red Bull folks should stick to doing what they know best, but it’s probably too late to reverse the damage.

Big Question: What will fix the Red Bull mess, fast?