Red Bull suspends alleged harassment victim in snowballing F1 scandal


Oracle Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner talks in the Team Principals Press Conference during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 07, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Enlarge / Red Bull Racing team boss Christian Horner faced the media at an F1 press conference earlier today in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Formula 1 has been embroiled in a scandal as its 2024 season gets underway. As Ars detailed on Monday, the team principal for Red Bull Racing, Christian Horner, was investigated by his organization for what was described as “controlling and inappropriate behavior” toward a female member of his staff. Now, we’ve learned that the staff member has been suspended with pay by the F1 team.

A spokesperson for the team told The Guardian that Red Bull was unable to comment on an internal matter.

Last week, Red Bull issued a statement about the dismissal of the grievance, stating that the complainant has a right of appeal but that it “is confident that the investigation has been fair, rigorous, and impartial.”

“The investigation report is confidential and contains the private information of the parties and third parties who assisted in the investigation, and therefore we will not be commenting further out of respect for all concerned,” the statement said. “Red Bull will continue striving to meet the highest workplace standards.”

Today, Horner faced the F1 media in a press conference for F1 team bosses at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, which takes place this Saturday. “It has been of great interest in different elements of the media for different reasons,” Horner said, adding, “I think it’s time to draw a line under it. And to focus on what is going on on track.”

Regarding the investigation, Horner said, “We are all bound by the same restrictions. Even if I’d like to talk about it, I can’t. This has been trying in many respects.”

Although Horner was cleared by Red Bull’s internal investigation, an anonymous source leaked WhatsApp screenshots, allegedly between Horner and the now-suspended employee—to hundreds of people in the F1 paddock. That was followed by Jos Verstappen, father of F1 world champion Max Verstappen, telling the media that Horner’s position was untenable.

Verstappen Sr. has denied being behind the leak, which is largely believed to be part of an internal Red Bull power struggle following the death of co-owner Dietrich Mateschitz. Horner has the backing of the Thai family that owns 51 percent of the company, but not the Austrian management of Red Bull GmbH, which has the backing of Mateschitz’s son, who owns the remaining 49 percent.

Others in the paddock have been pressed on their views of the situation. Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton told journalists that “it’s a really, really important time for the sport to show and stick to its values, hold ourselves accountable for our actions, and it’s a really, really pivotal moment for the sport in terms of what we project to the world and how it’s handled.”

“And it’s not been handled very well to this point, and I think transparency is really key,” Hamilton continued.
“It highlights some of the issues that we also have within the sport, when we’re talking about diversity and inclusion, that inclusion, making people feel comfortable in this environment, it’s clearly not the case.”

Speaking to Bloomberg, James Vowles, team principal for Williams Racing, said, “I can only control what happens within Williams, and what I can do within that environment is open everyone’s eyes to ‘this is how we have to be,’ because the best ideas don’t come from being a closed group of individuals. It comes from diversity.

“These allegations are allegations,” Vowles said. “I’m afraid I don’t have any understanding of what is behind them and the significance of what has happened. All I can say is that should this ever happen in our regard, we’ll be entirely supportive in terms of fixing it and making sure we have a culture that is accepting of everyone.”

But not every voice from the paddock has been as supportive. RB driver Daniel Ricciardo, who has become a fan favorite as a result of Netflix’s Drive to Survive, told the media he hoped the situation would just go away. “You want things to be smoother than they are, of course,” Ricciardo said. “Right now, there is a lot of noise and distraction, no doubt. Look, the way they performed last week… for them to be able to still focus on business on track, that is also a big strength of theirs. Hopefully, these things start to slowly go away, and they could just focus on being a racing team.”

As optics go, these are bad, particularly as the news of the employee’s suspension emerged on International Women’s Day and on the first day of the season for F1 Academy, a series for young women drivers to get their foot on the single-seater racing ladder. French phenom Doriane Pin was fastest in F1 Academy testing, followed by Britain’s Abby Pulling and the American Lia Block, daughter of Ken Block, the late star of the Gymkhana drifting videos.


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