Top Red Bull F1 adviser Helmut Marko under scrutiny over Christian Horner leaks: Source

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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Red Bull Formula One adviser Helmut Marko has suggested he could be suspended as early as next week amid questions about whether he was involved in leaks of information regarding a grievance against team principal Christian Horner.

In the latest twist at the top of Red Bull Racing in the wake of allegations of inappropriate behavior made against Horner and the resulting investigation, Marko, 80, is facing an investigation of his own from the team’s parent company, Red Bull GmbH. On Friday, Marko acknowledged the possibility of a suspension and star driver Max Verstappen defended Marko as a critical presence on his team.

The internal investigation of Marko relates to several information leaks, including a cache of purported messages and photos that were sent to top-ranking F1 officials, broadcasters and reporters soon after Red Bull announced that the grievance against Horner had been dismissed, according to a source briefed on the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A Google Drive folder containing messages alleged to be between Horner and the female complainant was sent anonymously to media outlets, including The Athletic, which has not been able to verify the contents. Horner has repeatedly refused to comment on their authenticity.

Speaking to Austrian broadcaster ORF on Friday, Marko said the “theoretical possibility exists” that he could miss the team’s next race in Australia after being asked about a potential suspension. Marko told Sky News that he is expected to speak with Red Bull GmbH managing director Oliver Mintzlaff on Saturday in Jeddah.

A spokesperson for Red Bull Racing said that Marko has not been suspended. Red Bull GmbH did not return a message seeking comment. 

Marko is one of the most powerful figures on Red Bull’s F1 team. He serves as its motorsports adviser, oversees its young driver program and has played a crucial role in the career of Verstappen, the three-time world champion.

Should Marko leave the team, it would lead to fresh doubt over Verstappen’s future at Red Bull.

Asked about the possibility of Marko’s suspension on Friday, Verstappen said it was important to him that Marko remain part of the team.

“I have always expressed this to everyone within the team, everyone high up, that he is an important part in my decision making for all the time in the future as well within the team,” Verstappen said. He added that the loss of such an “important pillar” would “not be good for my situation as well.”

Asked in a subsequent interview with Sky Sports if he needed Marko to stay for him to remain with the team, Verstappen replied: “I’ve always said that to the team. They know that.”

Verstappen’s Red Bull contract runs to 2028 and is one of the longest and most lucrative in F1 history.

The questions about Marko highlight the dynamics of an ongoing power struggle within the team. He is employed directly by Red Bull GmbH, not Red Bull Racing, and thus does not report directly to Horner.

Those dynamics also involve Verstappen’s father, Jos, who last week claimed Red Bull risked being “torn apart” if Horner continued in his role. Horner held clear-the-air talks with Verstappen’s manager, Raymond Vermeulen, in Dubai last week, and said on Thursday it was “time to move on” and to focus on the team’s on-track performance at this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen, in defending Marko on Friday, said that Marko built the team with Dietrich Mateschitz, Red Bull Racing’s founder, who died in 2022. “He has always been very loyal to the team, to everyone within the team, to make sure everyone would keep their positions already from back in the day,” Verstappen said.

“It is also very important that you give the man a lot of respect for what he has done. And that goes back also to loyalty and integrity. It is important he stays part of the team, also for me.”

Earlier this week, Verstappen said he intended to remain with Red Bull for the remainder of his F1 contract, and that “as long as we perform, there is no reason to leave.”

But Verstappen fell short of fully backing Horner, and acknowledged the criticisms made by his father by saying that he did not envision Jos being away from his entourage. Verstappen added that he thought “always things that can be worked out,” and that “everyone is man enough and respectful enough to each other anyway in that sense.”

The scrutiny of Marko’s future comes just 24 hours after news emerged that Red Bull Racing suspended with pay the complainant who made allegations against Horner, a move also related to the investigation.

Verstappen will start the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from pole position after beating Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Red Bull teammate Sergio Pérez in qualifying on Friday night.

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(Photo: Kym Illman / Getty Images)

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