MANAMA: A still-unresolved investigation into the boss of Formula 1’s champion team is overshadowing the start of the new season this week at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
It’s been three weeks since Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was confirmed to be under investigation over alleged misconduct toward a team employee. No timeline has been given for a decision on his future.
The team’s parent company is facing calls from senior F1 figures such as Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and McLaren counterpart Zak Brown for the investigation — conducted by an external lawyer — to be handled transparently.
In a letter to the team, Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Farley insisted on a resolution and said Ford was “frustrated by the lack of full transparency surrounding this matter.” Ford is set to become Red Bull’s engine supplier in 2026.
The Red Bull drinks company said on Feb. 5 it was investigating Horner but didn’t give any details. Horner denies any wrongdoing and has not been suspended from his role. He has continued to be the face of the F1 team, declaring “business as normal.”
Horner has led Red Bull since its 2005 debut in F1, and had a prominent role at the team’s car launch — far more visible than three-time defending champion driver Max Verstappen or his teammate Sergio Perez. Horner was on site for three days of preseason testing in Bahrain last week.
“For everyone, it’s nice, of course, when things are resolved,” Verstappen said Friday at testing.
On the track, Red Bull again seems to be the team to beat after a season in which Verstappen and Perez won all but one race. Verstappen finished with a record 19 wins. While most teams seem to have used the 2023 Red Bull as inspiration for their new cars, Red Bull has evolved, using a slim sidepod design that Mercedes previously tried with little success.
Red Bull was strong throughout the three days of testing, though Ferrari drivers Carlos Sainz Jr. and Charles Leclerc posted the fastest times on the second and third days. Times set in testing are generally considered a poor guide for racing.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton is going into his last season with Mercedes ahead of joining Ferrari next year.
For the 39-year-old Hamilton, there’s the hope that Ferrari allow him to fight for an eighth title after Mercedes was uncompetitive in the last two years. It’s also making a childhood dream come true. At testing in Bahrain, Hamilton reminisced about driving Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari in a video game as a child.
“We’ve had an absolutely incredible journey together, we’ve created history within the sport, and I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved,” Hamilton said of his time with Mercedes. “I’m writing my story and I felt like it was time to start a new chapter.”
The sudden announcement shook up F1 and leaves some leading drivers unsure of their places for next year. Sainz was expecting a contract extension at Ferrari but is making way for Hamilton to partner Leclerc.
The open seat at Mercedes has fueled speculation about drivers ranging from 41-year-old two-time champion Fernando Alonso, still at Aston Martin, to the 17-year-old Mercedes junior driver Kimi Antonelli, who is making his Formula 2 debut this week.
Michael Andretti and General Motors are still developing a car for F1 but they don’t have a spot on the grid yet.
The governing body, the FIA, has approved Andretti’s application to become the 11th team but F1 rejected the proposed US team for 2025 and 2026, arguing it would not be competitive — something Andretti and GM dispute.
In GM and its Cadillac brand, Andretti has the backing of one of the world’s leading auto manufacturers, and GM has applied to be an F1 engine supplier from 2028. “Our joint teams are continuing to develop our car at pace,” GM Racing director Jim Campbell said this month.
The series’ existing American team, Haas, looks to be headed for a difficult season, its first since Guenther Steiner — a star of the “Drive To Survive” series on Netflix — was dropped as team principal last month. Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg were consistently among the slowest over the three days of testing.
Don’t tune in on a Sunday to watch the race. The Bahrain GP and the following week’s race in Saudi Arabia are being held on Saturday, with qualifying on Friday.
That’s because the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts on March 10, the Sunday of the race week in Saudi Arabia, and that race was moved forward a day. F1 rules stipulate there has to be a week between races, so the Bahrain Grand Prix had to move up, too.
Last year’s race in Las Vegas set a precedent when it was held on a Saturday to maximize the audience in the US and around the world. That was the first F1 race held on a day other than Sunday since 1985.