BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 02: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing,Oracle Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner and the Oracle Red Bull Racing team pose for a photo as they celebrate after the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 02, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202403020640 // Usage for editorial use only //

Australian GP: Ten out of ten for Verstappen amid Horner saga?

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 02: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing,Oracle Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner and the Oracle Red Bull Racing team pose for a photo as they celebrate after the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 02, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images) Australian GP: Ten out of ten for Verstappen amid Horner saga?/ Red Bull Content Pool // SI202403020640 // Usage for editorial use only //

Max Verstappen will bid to win back-to-back Australian Grands Prix on Sunday and with it match his record of ten successive race victories, while on track they dominate off it Red Bull struggles to move on from off-track controversy.

Another winner’s chequered flag at Albert Park would see the Dutchman equal last year’s run of ten wins in a row from Miami to the Italian Grand Prix and leave rivals dwindling further in the rearview mirror.

Verstappen led a Red Bull one-two with Sergio Perez in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, though the early season triumphs have been tempered by team discord and “sex-texts” allegations against boss Christian Horner. Could this derail his bid for ten out of ten?

Horner was cleared of alleged misconduct toward a Red Bull employee but the unidentified woman lodged an appeal after her complaint was dismissed, British media reported last week, ensuring the controversy will rumble on in Melbourne.

Red Bull GmbH, the Formula 1 champions’ Austria-based parent company, has not commented on the reports but said before the season that the accuser had a right of appeal.

While the saga has had no perceivable impact on Verstappen’s performance, the driver’s father, Jos Verstappen, said after the Bahrain Grand Prix that the team risked being torn apart if Horner stayed in charge.

Those comments triggered fears Verstappen may look elsewhere from 2025 but the triple world champion, contracted to 2028, said things would have to “go really crazy” for that to happen.

Who can stop Verstappen from winning every race this year?

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 02: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing and Second placed Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrate in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 02, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Australian GP: Ten out of ten for Verstappen amid Horner saga?/ Red Bull Content Pool // SI202403020500 // Usage for editorial use only //

Good question. Barring bad luck no one. Verstappen is already 15 points clear of teammate Perez and 23 ahead of Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, raising the prospect that both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships may end up a repeat of last year’s procession.

With Red Bull’s RB20 performing at a different level to rival cars, the intrigue so far has focused on which team will emerge “best of the rest”.

Leclerc finished more than 18 seconds adrift of Verstappen at Jeddah and Ferrari will be eager to close the gap at Albert Park where the Red Bull driver won a chaotic race laden with crashes and three red flags last year.

Ferrari were boosted in Saudi Arabia by the performance of British reserve driver Oliver Bearman, who finished seventh as a late replacement for Carlos Sainz, though the Spaniard is expected back in the race seat this week after appendicitis surgery.

Mercedes, touted as a potential destination for Verstappen in 2025 to replace Ferrari-bound Lewis Hamilton, have yet to perform at a level that would impress the Dutch champion.

Hamilton finished ninth in Jeddah and lamented three years of stagnation for the team’s car, saying big changes were needed.

A very tight pack behind Red Bull and Ferrari

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 02: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB20 leads Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari SF-24 and the rest of the field during the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 02, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said the W15 car had not delivered on expectations but insisted it has potential: “The chasing pack is so close, which means you donit have to be out by much to lose three or four places on the grid.

“It also means you don’t have to find much to move up three or four positions. Maximising the potential of the car each weekend is key. Australia gives us another chance to show what we can do,” Wolff said in a preview ahead of Albert Park.

Daniel Ricciardo may also feel pressure to perform as he gears up for his return to his home circuit for the first time since 2022, this time with the rebadged Red Bull junior team outfit.

Ricciardo was 16th at Jeddah, one place behind teammate Yuki Tsunoda, prompting Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko to warn him to raise his game.

Young compatriot Oscar Piastri is well placed to steal Ricciardo’s thunder in front of home fans, though, after finishing fourth for McLaren in Saudi Arabia.

Round 3 of the 2024 F1 World Championship, the Australian Grand Prix weekend, the 27th at Albert Park in Melbourne begins on Friday with FP1 and FP2. (Reporting by Ian Ransom)

Big Question: Who can stop Verstappen from winning the 2024 Australian Grand Prix?