Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Graham Read
Formula 1 Correspondent
9:00 PM 2nd March 2024

Verstappen Dominates In Bahrain, But Horner Back Under Pressure

We’ve had all the pre-season launches and testing plus the major new stories about Sir Lewis Hamilton deciding to leave Mercedes for Ferrari and Red Bull’s Christian Horner CBE being cleared of any wrongdoing after a detailed investigation into allegations made against him by a female team member. So, this weekend in Bahrain was set to be all about going racing again at the start of the longest Formula 1 season ever and it was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who today put in a flawless performance to claim his 55th F1 victory. If only life were so simple though.

Max Verstappen was again peerless in Bahrain
Max Verstappen was again peerless in Bahrain
Horner had received widespread support over the last few weeks from most within the F1 community and beyond, but, even after last Wednesday’s pronouncement by the Red Bull GmbH global parent company that team principal and CEO Horner had been cleared of any wrongdoing and that the grievance had been dismissed, drawing a firm line under the whole matter, this was soon not to be the case in Bahrain. In a bizarre twist during Thursday’s ontrack second practice action an email from an unidentifiable source was sent to 149 key Formula 1 addressees, including senior members of the FIA and Liberty Media, all team principals and every permanently accredited member of F1 media.

Attached to this email was what the sender claimed was confidential information from the investigation, some of which, if true, appeared to show Horner in a less than favourable light in terms of messages allegedly sent by him to the female complainant within his team. Horner refused to comment on what he described as anonymous speculation and continued to deny any wrongdoing whatsoever, but this development simply pulled the investigation and its conclusion back into the limelight. The timing of this alleged leak was clearly designed to inflict maximum damage on Horner and the Red Bull team as well as the Red Bull brand as a whole and it seems clear that there are parties involved who wish to see the downfall of the highly successful and likeable British team principal.

Formula 1’s long renowned dog-eat-dog Piranha Club really does make the regular squabbling and secret plotting of MPs at Westminster seem like a vicar’s tea party in comparison!

Christian Horner has been plunged back into controversy
Christian Horner has been plunged back into controversy
Turning to Thursday’s opening free practice session, it had somewhat unexpectedly been headed by the RB of Daniel Ricciardo, with the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri plus the other RB piloted by Yuki Tsunoda the best of the rest. However, these times had to be taken with a large pinch of salt as these four drivers were amongst the few who actually ran on the softest, quickest tyre compound, leaving more meaningful running to follow later. Come second practice on Thursday, Hamilton and George Russell caused some surprise too by topping the timesheets for Mercedes ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, with Verstappen only sixth, if seemingly the fastest runner when race simulation runs were undertaken. The fact that lowly Haas’ Nico Hülkenberg was seventh quickest showed that more representative times were still to be seen.

Come yesterday morning, the under pressure Horner appeared relaxed and at ease in the F1 paddock as he chatted to colleagues ahead of the final practice session and later had a private meeting with the F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and the FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem before the subsequent qualifying hour for today’s Grand Prix. All regretted that the issue was overshadowing the start of the new season, when the ontrack action ought to be the dominant factor. The conditions for third practice were very different to those expected for both qualifying and the race and thus the times set were not overly significant, but after a closing flurry of hot laps it was Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, a Spaniard with a point to prove after being set to be dropped at the end of this season to make way for Hamilton, who posted the best time. His fellow countryman Alonso and Verstappen slotted in just behind him, but the real focus was on how every driver would fare come qualifying, when it really mattered.

The answer was that Verstappen delivered when he had to, claiming a dominant pole position for Red Bull ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, the Mercedes of Russell and the other Ferrari of Sainz. Meanwhile, Hamilton was a relatively lowly ninth, hoping for better race pace.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was thrilled to share the podium with Red Bull
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was thrilled to share the podium with Red Bull
In a public show of solidarity, Geri Horner was seen hand-in-hand with her husband prior to the start of today’s Grand Prix, which began at 18.00 local time in Bahrain (15.00 back in the UK) and, after those famous red lights had gone out for the first time in 2024, it was Verstappen who made a clean start to lead Leclerc, Russell and Pérez into Turn 1. Within just a lap and a half the Red Bull team leader had pulled out of DRS range of Leclerc and on the third tour Russell swept past the latter at Turn 4 into second place. Soon Verstappen was extending his lead over Russell before Ferrari’s Monégasque driver was usurped at Turn 11 by the other Red Bull pedalled by Segio Pérez. To make matters worse for Leclerc, he was then passed by his team-mate Sainz after a wheel-to-wheel battle.

George Russell was the first Mercedes driver home
George Russell was the first Mercedes driver home
Shortly afterwards, the first round of pitstops began and Pérez got the better of Russell for what would in effect become second place. Verstappen waited until the end of lap 17 to pit and rejoined the circuit with a 5.3 second lead over his team-mate. To their rear Sainz got the better of Russell for third and Verstappen then proceeded to extend his lead over Pérez to over 17 seconds. With 20 laps remaining, the Mexican pitted to exchange his hard compound tyres for soft ones and Verstappen did likewise. The reigning champion went on to set a new fastest lap of the race, ensuring he earned the extra point for doing so and, as the end neared, Russell locked up and went off the track at Turn 10, gifting fourth place to Leclerc. Verstappen reached the chequered flag 20 seconds ahead of Pérez, with third placed Sainz a further four seconds adrift, and the leading sextet of finishers was completed by Leclerc, Russell and Norris.

Next up in just one week’s time comes the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, to be held on Saturday March 9th before the start of Ramadan the following day. We can but await any further developments on the Horner situation, which has of course sent the tabloid press into overdrive, if not the motorsport media world.

2024 Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix

1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1hr31m44.742s
2 Sergio Pérez (Red Bull) +22.457s
3 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +25.110s
4 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +39.669s
5 George Russell (Mercedes) +46.788s
6 Lando Norris (McLaren) +48.458s
7 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +50.324s
8 Oscar Piastri (McLaren) +56.082s
9 Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) +1m14.887s
10 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +1m33.216s
11 Zhou Guanyu (Sauber) Lapped
12 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
13 Daniel Ricciardo (RB) Lapped
14 Yuki Tsunoda (RB) Lapped
15 Alex Albon (Williams) Lapped
16 Nico Hülkenberg (Haas) Lapped
17 Esteban Ocon (Alpine) Lapped
18 Pierre Gasly (Alpine) Lapped
19 Valtteri Bottas (Sauber) Lapped
20 Logan Sargeant (Williams) Lapped

2024 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship

1 Max Verstappen 26
2 Sergio Pérez 18
3 Carlos Sainz 15

2024 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship

1 Red Bull 44
2 Ferrari 27
3 Mercedes 16