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At Jeddah, Nobody Wins

Oracle Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner looks on in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
Clive Rose/Getty Images

For the people praying that Red Bull would meet its downfall before 2026, this was always the more likely result: the blatantly toxic machinery of power at its head eventually grinding itself to death, The downfall sure as hell wasn't going to happen on the track—at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen finished 13 seconds clear of his teammate, Sergio Pérez, who then finished five seconds clear of the best of the rest. But even in a season that was more competitive, Verstappen's win would be the least newsworthy portion of the race. The largest struggle took place before the race began, as the Christian Horner–Helmut Marko duo at Red Bull's head finally begins to fall apart.

Three days ago, BBC Sport reported that Red Bull Racing had suspended the woman who originally filed allegations of controlling and inappropriate behavior against Horner. The reason Red Bull reportedly gave her was that she had been "dishonest." This was the first reported action taken against the original complainant since a Google Drive containing the documents of the investigation was leaked to all media members in the paddock. However, both the FIA and longstanding celebrity PR infrastructure have been aiding Horner since well before the suspension.

While the FIA's intervention seemingly failed—Verstappen did not, in fact, heed FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem's request to offer public support for Horner—the Geri Halliwell née Ginger Spice faction rallied. Former Spice Girl Mel B said that all of the Spice Girls were in a WhatsApp group sending Halliwell their support. A few days later, at the Bahrain GP, Halliwell was conscientiously photographed at the paddock, holding hands with Horner; this weekend, Horner had his arms around her while they celebrated Red Bull's second-straight 1-2 finish to open up the season. Certainly, at the end of all that, it would be difficult to forget that Christian Horner is married to Ginger Spice.

It speaks to the culture in F1 that "the other side of things" in the Horner case is not the woman who initially reported the behavior, but Helmut Marko, who is a Red Bull proper employee and historically Horner's love-hate partner in crime. In the media cycle, the Horner scandal has quickly shifted from a narrative of abusive behavior committed by a major figure in motorsport to that of a power struggle between two factions within the team. Picture a Street Fighter opening screen. On one side: Chalerm Yoovidhya and Christian Horner. On the other side: the Austrian headquarters, Helmut Marko, and, most importantly, Max Verstappen.

The day before the race, it was reported that Helmut Marko was at risk of being suspended by Red Bull (source: literally Helmut Marko). Big fans of Occam's razor will note that a suspension implies that Marko was somehow involved with the leak of the documents, even if Marko, whose greatest defense in this situation is that he is 80, did not work the Google Drive and send out the emails himself. As a result, Max Verstappen finally spoke unequivocally on the matter: "I cannot continue without Helmut Marko." While a debate may be had about whether Horner or Marko was more important to Red Bull's recent success, there is no debate at all between Horner and Verstappen.

The distillation of serious allegations into ownership drama is gauche. The Red Bull scandal is not Drive to Survive drama in the same way that Nikita Mazepin's sexual harassment case did not qualify as Drive to Survive drama—that is, at least in its original light. Reframe the allegations against Horner into palace intrigue, and suddenly it is a delicious narrative to follow. After all, at the start of the season, this is what plenty of F1 fans wanted: a shake-up of such scale that it would disrupt the Horner-and-Marko-and-Verstappen status quo.

If Marko leaves and Verstappen keeps his word and follows, then it will signal the end of the Red Bull/Verstappen racing reign—though it doesn't rule out either/or continuing to dominate—at the cost of Horner remaining. If Horner leaves, it will not be because of inappropriate behavior but because Marko and the Verstappen family and slightly less than half of the greater Red Bull ownership evidently want him out—or, at least, value Verstappen's driving over Horner's presence—and the same system that initially cleared him of wrongdoing will punish him anyway. Either way, at least one will remain. It's a very F1 resolution for spectators tired of seeing Max Verstappen run away with the win every race: generate a situation toxic enough that you won't be happy no matter who does.

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