Race Weekend Central

F1 Midweek: A Mess of Empty Red Bull Cans and Corruption

In case you were not aware, there was a Formula 1 Grand Prix this past weekend and another one this coming weekend.

It would be easy to forget this, with the amount of non-racing news, headlines and gossip that have surrounded the F1 circus in its opening week, but there are still motor races going on.

One of the stories, however, does concern something much more important than motor racing. There is a very clear imbalance of power in the F1 paddock and has been since the very beginning, as Frontstretch alumni Elizabeth Blackstock wrote in her column concerning the lead story in this – the Christian Horner situation.

I linked to Elizabeth’s piece not in that it’s a great piece – it absolutely is, anyway – but because I as a white male simply can’t do the subject justice. I don’t have to “prove” I’m a “real reporter/fan” or know what is going on here, and I am not harassed because of my gender at the racetrack.

One of the truly beautiful things about motorsport is that working in it in any role can be done by anybody of any gender, and of any background. More should be demanded out of the bosses at the very top of the pyramid to create a welcoming environment where anybody can enter and be a success if they have the talent. We have made tremendous progression in recent years, but it is not enough…

See also
The Pit Straight: Should We Keep Watching F1?

As evidenced by this entire Horner mess. After Red Bull dismissed the grievance last week, a link to a Google Drive with 79 images marked as “evidence” was then sent to all of the top brass at FOM, the FIA and credentialed media.

Obviously, outside of legal reasons, the main reason why these images simply have not been reported out by any major news source is because they cannot be fully verified. If they are faked then, by all accounts, they were good fakes. But it’s still impossible to verify what is reportedly largely a collection of WhatsApp messages.

At the same time, however, the person who anonymously emailed this out to everybody had the connections to have all of those email addresses. I don’t think Toto Wolff’s email is toto@mercedes.com, as an example, and he’s just one of several high profile names these documents were sent to.

And just to be clear, it would be surprising if this came from the woman making these allegations. Remember her? She’s an actual person and not a means to an end. Leaking this like that really damages her legal grounds if she were to continue to contest this beyond the investigation.

After the race, which was dominated by Max Verstappen, the elder Verstappen, Jos, went to the Daily Mail and attempted to end Horner’s reign at Red Bull a bit more directly:

The fact that this story was broken in the first place by de Telegraaf, a Dutch outlet that has had a close relationship with Jos since his days as a Formula 1 driver himself, kinda just speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Jos Verstappen, for his part, has denied that he leaked the story or that he leaked the Google Drive.

Let’s also not give the elder Verstappen a bottle of champagne and a wreath for potentially doing the right thing. This is a man who was accused of beating his ex wife, running over his girlfriend, and once left his then-young son abandoned at a gas station after Max failed to win a karting championship.

Heads are going to roll one way or another if there is a Red Bull civil war brewing.

And then there’s FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, who is now being investigated for multiple instances of abusing his power. One of which is not his reported pressuring in private to Max Verstappen to come out in full support of Horner this past weekend.

A disgusting act, but apparently not one the internal leaders at the FIA want to investigate.

Anyway, our story begins at Saudi Arabia… last year. When serving a five-second penalty, one of Fernando Alonso‘s crew members touched the rear of the car and Alonso was assessed a 15-second penalty after the race.

It was a bad call, because there were plenty of times before in history where crews were out briefly tapping the car before servicing it. Aston Martin Aramco successfully argued this by showing examples of it to the stewards, who rescinded the penalty and gave Alonso his podium back.

The allegation is that Ben Sulayem attempted to instruct the FIA Vice President of the region to remove the penalty. Even if it was a crappy penalty, the FIA president must remain impartial and should not attempt to influence the opinion of independent stewards.

The irony of a situation surrounding race fixing, Alonso, and a night street race is not lost on me. Time really is a flat circle.

The second situation is that Ben Sulayem is alleged to have instructed staff to find issues at Las Vegas and deny the street circuit’s entry after failing FIA homologation tests on safety grounds. This would have directly effected the pocketbook of FOM and all the teams, as the Las Vegas Grand Prix by all accounts was a massive financial success.

When Ben Sulayem was first running for FIA president, a big part of his campaign was to try and run things in new ways. A fresh take on how the organization is ran.

The reality is that, if these allegations are true, Ben Sulayem has gone far back. Jean Todt’s FIA, a competently ran organization that kept things on the down low, has been completely dismantled by a guy who just loves to hear himself talk.

Even Max Mosely wouldn’t have done something as ridiculous as either one of these allegations in his reign as the FIA president.

See also
The Greatest F1 Drivers of All Time: Legends Who Transformed the Sport

I do not think Ben Sulayem should serve as FIA president while the investigations continue on into him. I don’t know the mechanisms of removal, but in a normal world, he would be suspended until following the investigations and the role would go to somebody fairly qualified in the short term.

So yes, F1 has become quite a mess off-track, and it’s not likely to be fully unclogged by this time next week. Somehow, this entire column went by without even mentioning the elephant in the room: one driver being so dramatically ahead of his competition that he is already being crowned the 2024 champion. You’d think this would be the most pressing issue looking at social media posts from fans and others leading up to and in the direct aftermath of the race. There might be a couple more pressing matters the series needs to address now.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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