Investigation into Red Bull boss overshadows new F1 season as Verstappen aims for fourth title

Investigation into Red Bull boss overshadows new F1 season as Verstappen aims for fourth title
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner during pre-season testing on Feb. 23, 2024 at the Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 February 2024
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Investigation into Red Bull boss overshadows new F1 season as Verstappen aims for fourth title

Investigation into Red Bull boss overshadows new F1 season as Verstappen aims for fourth title
  • 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
  • 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

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.

HAMILTON’S SWITCH

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.

ANDRETTI’S FIGHT

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.

SATURDAY START

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.


FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem receives Arab and MENA backing

FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem receives Arab and MENA backing
Updated 19 April 2024
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FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem receives Arab and MENA backing

FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem receives Arab and MENA backing
  • Statement condemns “false allegations” of interference in sporting decisions during 2023 Formula One season

DUBAI: The FIA Members for Sport for MENA region and Arab Council of Touring and Automobile Clubs sub-region have released a statement of support for FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem against what they see as “false allegations” of interference in sporting decisions during the 2023 Formula One season.

“Knowing that Mr. Mohammed Ben Sulayem has been committed to promoting transparency within the FIA since he was elected president of the FIA, his full co-operation with the FIA Ethics Committee and the Compliance department during the 30 days of investigations is highly regarded,” the statement said.  

“The Ethics Committee were unanimous in their determination that there was no evidence to substantiate allegations of interference of any kind involving the FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem and strong evidence beyond any reasonable doubt was presented to support the determination of the FIA Ethics Committee.” 

The statement said that the FIA president was cleared of any wrongdoing over allegations he interfered with the stewards’ decision at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2023, and cleared of any wrongdoing regarding allegations that he attempted to interfere with the track certification process for the Las Vegas Grand Prix 2023.

The statement continued: “The FIA Members for Sport for MENA Region and ACTAC Sub-Region condemn, and at the same time are profoundly disappointed with the unjust and relentless attempt to undermine the integrity of the FIA Leadership by such unfaithful allegations to serve narrow personal agendas, and we strongly encourage the FIA administration to initiate legal actions against those responsible for those allegations against the FIA President. 

“We are confident that Mr. Mohammed Ben Sulayem will continue to serve the FIA and its Members in a transparent manner implementing the FIA Code of Ethics as top priority.

“We also would like to assert our support to Mr. Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s leadership of the FIA and will continue our co-operation with him in his efforts to serve and develop the FIA and its Members,” it said.  


12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level

12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level
Updated 17 April 2024
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12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level

12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level
  • Only three years after taking up racing, Janna Al-Nujaiman has already excelled in domestic and regional competitions against more experienced drivers
  • Janna Al-Nujaiman: My dad used to take me to a rental karting, which sparked my interest, as well as watching F1 on the weekends with him as a little kid

JEDDAH: At only 12, Saudi’s Janna Talal Al-Nujaiman is already dreaming big. As she makes a name for herself in the Kingdom’s karting scene, she has set her sights on becoming a professional driver and ultimately racing in no less a category than Formula One.

The Jeddah resident started karting three years ago in Kyiv while living with her Ukrainian mother, and since then, she has progressed through age group levels and has gone on to rank highly in multiple national and regional races.

Unlike many young drivers coming through the ranks of different racing categories today, however, Janna does not come from a motorsport background.

She is making her way through a tough and costly sport with the support of her family, especially her father Talal Al-Nujaiman.

“I’m not really from a racing family. My dad used to take me to a rental karting, which sparked my interest, as well as watching F1 on the weekends with him as a little kid,” she said about the origins of her passion for the sport.

From the first day, she showed a remarkable aptitude for karting.

“After my father saw how happy I was driving, he called the (instructors) and asked them about me, and my first time in karting,” Janna added. “He asked them about my performance and timing. Was it normal? The answer was no, what I did was not normal.”

In 2022, while Janna and her father were in France on vacation, she was admitted into a karting academy, which was supervised by Herve Montage, a former French rally driver.

Janna was again the least experienced among the senior candidates — a group of elite karting drivers aged 14 to 16. And yet again, the young Saudi offered a glimpse of what she is capable of.

After one month of practice and breaking records, she was asked to stay in France and continue racing, but her father, a Saudia captain, believed that the future of racing was in the Kingdom and refused all offers his daughter received.

“Based on the vision of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and what my country has been going through in all fields, I decided to bring back my daughter to Saudi Arabia and (have her) make her way in motorsports in her own country,” Talal said.

He believes his daughter has what it takes to break into motorsports in Saudi Arabia.

“I have to be very careful what I say now so that I don’t build up pressure on her,” Talal said. “But racing today is looking for women, wants women, and she really loves racing. So, I support her as best I can.

“Making it to the top is of course a very tough road. If she wants to get there, she has to do everything and work very hard. Then she can do it.”

Talal said that his daughter started racing competitively in Jeddah in September 2023, winning her first karting competition on Feb. 24 of this year at the Track Challenge in Jeddah. A mark of her talent, she achieved this in a field of almost 100 male drivers, all older and more experienced than her, with some being university champions with 10 years of experience.

“My dream is to see my daughter representing her country,” Talal said.

For Janna however, that is not enough. Her dream is to be the first female champion in racing’s most elite series here in the Kingdom.

“My dream is to see myself in the future raising the flag of my country Saudi Arabia … by winning the F1 and (being) the first Saudi woman who will make the impossible come true,” she said.

She says she hopes to one day become as good as her motor racing idol Fernando Alonso.

Karting has historically been the birthplace of champions such as Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Alonso, whom Janna recently met.

Now she is looking for sponsorship opportunities to help keep her racing dream alive through karting and eventually other series. While she continues to count on the significant support of her father, who helps cover many racing expenses, her goal now is to add sponsors who will help push her onto the professional circuits.

Given her breakthroughs in such a short time, with the right support, the name Janna Al-Nujaiman is set to become a familiar one for racing fans across the Kingdom and the region in the coming years.


Wehrlein wins Misano E-Prix after last-lap heartbreak for Rowland

Wehrlein wins Misano E-Prix after last-lap heartbreak for Rowland
Updated 15 April 2024
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Wehrlein wins Misano E-Prix after last-lap heartbreak for Rowland

Wehrlein wins Misano E-Prix after last-lap heartbreak for Rowland
  • Victory for TAG Heuer Porsche driver was the sixth of his Formula E career
  • Reigning champion Jake Dennis claims second place for Andretti Formula E Team, Nick Cassidy of Jaguar TCS Racing secures third

MISANO: The Misano E-Prix saw Pascal Wehrlein of the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team emerge triumphant after an intense battle for Round 7 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship on Sunday night.

At the second leg of the inaugural Misano E-Prix double-header, Wehrlein made amends for TAG Heuer Porsche’s poor performance in the first race on Saturday. His first-place trophy from Round 7 is the sixth of his Formula E career, following a heartbreaking last-lap miscalculation that resulted in the then-race leader Oliver Rowland running out of energy and retiring.

Reigning ABB FIA Formula E World Champion Jake Dennis of the Andretti Formula E Team secured second place, while Jaguar TCS Racing’s Nick Cassidy clinched third place at the flag by five hundredths of a second, in front of a 25,000-strong crowd.

Wehrlein’s triumph has him tied with Dennis at the top of the Drivers’ standings, with previous leader Rowland falling to third. Meanwhile, Jaguar TCS Racing leads the Teams’ table by a significant margin.

“Yesterday would have been better to win but I’m very happy about the race today,” Wehrlein said. “It was quite chaotic again in the beginning until mid-race. I wasn’t sure if I should stay in the lead or let Oli (Rowland) through the pace. His pace seemed a bit weird and too fast to try and defend so I didn’t defend him much. I was a bit surprised by his energy, I wasn’t sure if the team had the correct information or not. But in the end, it proved to be the right thing to do. It was a lot of managing; the energy, the battery, the tires. Just everything.

“It goes quickly from zero to hero, we know that in Formula E. I think we had the pace this weekend to win both races. Unfortunately yesterday with these kinds of races I was a bit of a victim with my front wing and then being at the back, but today was a big redemption for us.”

Round 8 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship will be the 2024 Monaco E-Prix on Saturday, April 27.


Formula E reveals driver lineup for first rookie session of season 10

Formula E reveals driver lineup for first rookie session of season 10
Updated 13 April 2024
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Formula E reveals driver lineup for first rookie session of season 10

Formula E reveals driver lineup for first rookie session of season 10
  • Session is scheduled for rounds 6, 7 of championship taking place at Misano World Circuit in Italy

RIYADH: Formula E and the FIA have revealed the full roster of 11 rookie drivers set to debut at the first rookie session of season 10, scheduled for rounds six and seven of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship at the Misano World Circuit in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

The rookie free practice sessions are designed exclusively for drivers with no previous experience racing a Formula E car on-track and who hold a minimum International Grade B license. The session is designed to promote new and emerging talent in the premier electric racing series, offering drivers a platform to showcase their skills in the seat of the GEN3 race car — the fastest, lightest, most powerful and efficient electric race car ever built.

The last on-track rookie session conducted by the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship was the official rookie free practice in Rome for rounds 13 and 14 of season nine. Notably, Jehan Daruvala, a rookie from that session, has since advanced to a full-time seat for season 10 with Maserati MSG Racing.

The rookies representing all 11 teams in the championship got the opportunity to shine in a free practice session this weekend.

For the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship’s first visit to the Italian track, the drivers will face the 14 turns of the 3.382 km track complete clockwise, infield at turns one, two, three and four, before returning to the GP layout down toward what will be turn five and the turn seven hairpin. A high-speed straight follows into a sharp left-right at turns eight and nine before another fast sprint around the complex at the back of the circuit before hooking back through turn 14 on to the home straight.

“As we embark on this exciting new venture in Misano, we welcome a new wave of talent to the Formula E stage,” Alberto Longo, co-founder and chief championship officer at Formula E, said. “These rookie sessions not only showcase the potential of emerging drivers, but also our underlying commitment to nurturing fresh talent in the world of electric motorsport.

“Formula E stands at the forefront of motorsport when it comes to technological advancement and innovation,” he added. “We’re thrilled to harness that energy and provide the upcoming generation of racing prodigies with the ultimate platform to showcase their skills: Behind the wheel of the GEN3 race car.”

Drivers to watch

Zane Maloney, Andretti Formula E: Andretti is set to once again highlight the talents of Zane Maloney, who will commandeer the team’s Porsche 99X Electric in both the rookie free practice session in Misano and the upcoming Berlin rookie test. Returning to represent the American outfit, Maloney is poised to further solidify his role as the team’s official reserve and development driver, clocking valuable laps in the Misano session. This will mark his fourth appearance with the team, building on his experience from the 2023 rookie test, as well as his participation in the rookie free practice session in Rome and the season 10 preseason test in Valencia.

Paul Aron, Envision Racing: At just 20 years old, Aron is hailed as one of the most thrilling young talents in single-seater racing, holding the second position in the Formula Two standings for the season. With an impressive three podium finishes under his belt already in his inaugural full FIA Formula Two campaign this year, the Estonian driver is swiftly establishing himself as a standout prospect for the future.

Jordan King, Mahindra Racing: With Nyck de Vries of Mahindra Racing unavailable for the double-header around Tempelhof Airport due to a prior commitment in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the team will turn to King to fill the void. A seasoned racer with a rich background in international single-seaters, including stints in the IndyCar Series, FIA Formula Two and FIA Formula Three, King brings a wealth of experience to the table. Having served as test driver for the Manor Racing Formula One team in the past, he currently holds a crucial simulator and development role with the Alpine F1 Team.

Sheldon van der Linde, Jaguar TCS Racing: The 2022 DTM champion will make his return to the Formula E paddock, gearing up for today’s free practice zero test. The South African — brother of Kelvin van der Linde — stepped in at ABT CUPRA in season nine, swiftly acclimatising himself when he took part in the championship’s official Berlin rookie test for Jaguar TCS Racing last April.


Mitch Evans targets another Italian triumph as Formula E makes Rimini bow

Mitch Evans targets another Italian triumph as Formula E makes Rimini bow
Updated 11 April 2024
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Mitch Evans targets another Italian triumph as Formula E makes Rimini bow

Mitch Evans targets another Italian triumph as Formula E makes Rimini bow
  • The Misano World Circuit in Italy hosts rounds 6 and 7 of the 2024 world championship

MISANO: All eyes will be on Mitch Evans, arguably the most successful Formula E driver in Italy, when the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship returns this weekend.

New Zealander Evans, with four previous wins in Rome, and teammate Nick Cassidy, will be feeling the pressure of maintaining their “ones to beat” record after securing a 1-2 finish for the Jaguar powertrain last year at the Rome E-Prix.

The championship’s 22 drivers face a new location for the Misano E-Prix, comprising rounds 6 and 7, on April 13-14.

The double-header at the Misano World Circuit is a return to Italy for the next chapter in the battle for the championship in front of an established motorsport fanbase. The adapted circuit is expected to deliver exciting racing to fans in the grandstands and around the world.

For Mahindra Racing’s Edoardo Mortara, the race holds special significance, with the Italian-Swiss-French driver eager to perform well in front of a home crowd after his promising performance in Tokyo.

Max Gunther will arrive at Misano fresh off a win in Japan, aiming to capitalize on his momentum and thrill fans with another stellar performance for Maserati MSG Racing on home soil. Oliver Rowland, meanwhile, will hope to extend his impressive streak of podium places, seeking a fourth consecutive top-three finish. With his consistent form, Rowland will be a force to be reckoned with at the weekend.

With the title race wide open, Pascal Wehrlein will also be pushing the limits to sustain his momentum and secure a more comfortable lead in the standings.

For its debut on the Formula E calendar, the track layout will be 3.381 km in length with 14 turns. 

Nestled in the picturesque Rimini province of Italy, the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, also known as Misano Circuit Sic 58, has been a staple on the motorsport scene since 1972. Renowned for its rapid, flowing track and wealth of overtaking opportunities, Misano has been a favorite with MotoGP and WorldSBK enthusiasts for decades. 

With its rich history and reputation as a hot spot for motorsport events — the venue also hosts endurance racing, the Ferrari Challenge, DTM (a sports car racing series), and FIA Formula 3 — the venue will be more familiar to some drivers than others.