FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem (R) and Dan Marino in 2022. May 8, 2022; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Dan Marino and FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem applaud during the award ceremony following the Miami Grand Prix at Miami International Autodrome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Oracle Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner remains in a swirl of controversy. Over the last month, a Red Bull-commissioned investigation looked into allegations of inappropriate behavior from key Formula 1 figure Horner, including with claims of inappropriate behavior from a female coworker.

That investigation officially cleared Horner Wednesday. But on Thursday, an anonymous source leaked a Google Drive folder purporting to show numerous sexually suggestive WhatsApp messages from Horner to the complainant, sending that folder to 149 F1 figures, including Mohammed Ben Sulayem (president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, F1’s governing body), other F1 team principals, and members of the media. Horner has refused to say if they’re genuine or not.

That’s led to a lot of further pushback towards Horner from F1 figures. Even his own top driver Max Verstappen (who has won the last three consecutive F1 drivers’ championships) has only provided limited support for him, endorsing what the team is doing performance-wise. But governing body figure Ben Sulayem is now reportedly pushing to change that, with Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reporting Sunday and the BBC independently confirming that Ben Sulayem has asked Verstappen to back Horner publicly. Here’s more on that from that BBC piece by Andrew Benson, which also covers criticism of Horner from Verstappen’s father Jos (a former F1 driver himself):

“It cannot continue this way,” said former F1 driver Jos Verstappen.

“The situation is not good for the team and is driving people apart.”

…A Red Bull spokesperson said: “There are no issues here. The team are united and we are focused on racing.”

…On Sunday the Telegraaf reported that Max Verstappen had been asked by Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the president of F1’s governing body the FIA, to back Horner publicly.

BBC Sport has independently verified the story.

That’s certainly a notable claim about “no issues here” amidst this. And it’s questionable if the team is as united as that spokesperson claims. But the most interesting thing here may be the reports of Ben Sulayem asking Verstappen to back Horner.

That feels like incredible overreach from a governing body president to an athlete around an embattled team figure. Imagine if there had been reports of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell urging Washington Commanders players to back past owner Daniel Snyder. We’ll seer where this goes, but it’s definitely a messy situation for the FIA, F1, and Red Bull.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.