Why F1 can’t move on from Horner story; Three teams feeling good in Saudi Arabia

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Welcome back to Prime Tire, where we’re looking at the renderings of a new Saudi Arabia circuit (scheduled for 2027), wondering whether they know it looks like a Mario Kart track. Can you even fit a Koopa Shell in a Formula One car? Has science solved this yet?

Anyway, qualifying and practice are wrapped up in Saudi Arabia – and so is a frantic week of off-track stories. It’s been a messy start to the season. I’m Patrick, and Luke Smith will be along shortly. Let’s dive in.

Horner: ‘Move on’ from the investigation story

We should briefly touch on the latest updates in the Christian Horner story:

  • The Athletic confirmed on Thursday that Red Bull Racing has suspended with pay the female employee who made allegations of inappropriate behavior against team principal Christian Horner. The suspension is related to the findings of an outside investigation that led to the dismissal of a grievance against Horner.
  • A spokesperson for Red Bull Racing said the team would not comment on employee matters. Horner declined to comment during a Thursday press conference for “confidentiality reasons.” The FIA, the regulator for the sport, said it did not deem it appropriate to comment on a team’s action against one of its employees. It referred questions to F1, which declined to comment.

I want to hold up two quotes for you, side by side. Both came from mid-week media sessions.

  • Christian Horner: “A grievance was raised, it was fully investigated, and it was dismissed. And from there, we move onwards. And I think an awful lot has been made out of this. Obviously, it has been, obviously, of great interest in different elements of the media for different reasons. And I think the time now is to look forward and to draw a line under it. We’re here to go racing.”
  • Lewis Hamilton: “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.”

The Athletic’s Luke Smith wrote an eloquent rebuttal to Horner’s notions on Friday, saying: “The ongoing turmoil reflects badly on the sport. There’s no escaping that. The past three weeks have seen it reach not only the back page of the newspapers but the front pages, too. People are talking about F1 for the reasons the sport does not want.”

The Horner situation has unfolded in a way that has alienated many women motorsport fans. There’s no doubt about that. So I was glad to see F1 and Sky Sports broadcaster Laura Winter take a moment after the F1A race to address those fans directly.

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It’s been a long week

And my brain is mush, so instead of doing Something Fun or Planned here, let’s just empty the F1 notebook with six bites, shall we?

Three cruisers

  • Ferrari now rests its hopes on Charles Leclerc with Sainz out; they should feel okay with that. He qualified P2, and his car looks far more capable of a podium finish here than last year.
  • Red Bull will win. Verstappen secured his 34th career pole by three-tenths of a second over Leclerc. (Get used to that front-row pairing this year.)
  • Fernando Alonso – Keep an eye out. He starts P4. But the 42-year-old impressed early in practice runs, threatened pole in quali and podiumed here last year. (Sort of.) Just … keep an eye out.

Three struggles

  • Lewis Hamilton is really scuffling this week. He had a really scary moment in FP2 when he didn’t know Logan Sargeant was on a push lap and almost caused a gnarly collision. His lap times haven’t been great, either (he’s unhappy with the car balance). Ferrari reserve driver Oliver Bearman (more on him in a second) almost knocked him out in Q2. Hamilton will start P8 behind his teammate again.
  • Stake and Williams probably want a do-over in Jeddah. Zhou Guanyu crashed out mid-way through FP3, and neither Stake driver made it out of Q1 in qualifying. And Williams is still trying to get a handle on the new machine. Sargeant qualified P19 and clipped the wall in practice on Friday.
  • Alpine just doesn’t have it. We knew that, though—for a team renowned for its power unit deficiencies, the high-power Jeddah circuit would expose its problems. Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon went out in Q1 once again.

Inside the Paddock with Luke Smith

When Oliver Bearman went to bed last night, he expected to take part in the Formula Two sprint race on Friday. Instead, he became the youngest driver in F1 history to wear the famous red of Scuderia Ferrari.

Bearman jumped into the SF-24 for FP3 after Carlos Sainz was ruled out due to appendicitis, which required surgery on Friday. The procedure went well, and Sainz is currently recovering in the hospital.

With less than an hour of practice, Bearman jumped in for qualifying and performed admirably, easily getting into Q2, where he was knocked out in 11th by just 0.036 seconds. For a first go, it was a remarkable effort from the young Brit.

His near-miss with the wall in Q1 also drew a great facial reaction from his dad at the back of the Ferrari garage, ripe for a new F1 meme.

This was the chance Bearman needed. So far, he’s grabbed it with both hands. Bringing home some points today at such short notice will be a big statement that he’s ready for an F1 shot.

Through all the recent news headlines, the story of an incredibly talented youngster getting a chance — with Ferrari, of all teams — is a wonderful palate cleanser.

Let’s remember a race

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There have only been three Saudi Arabian GPs, so the pickings for the section this week are slim. Luckily, the inaugural Jeddah race in 2021 stands out as the last time Hamilton won a grand prix. In hindsight, it was also the sunset of Mercedes’ time as F1’s dominant team. The following weekend in Abu Dhabi, Verstappen controversially beat Hamilton for the drivers’ world championship. You know what’s happened since. Ruthless domination from Red Bull and Verstappen and a Mercedes downturn that will end with Hamilton joining Ferrari in 2025. Jeddah might hold a bittersweet place in Hamilton’s heart.

Outside the Points

I love the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. I love the high tension as cars flirt with the tight corners and walls around here. I love that it looks like someone designed it by dropping a rubber band on the ground and seeing what shape it landed in. I love the seaside atmosphere. And I love our track breakdown, which you should read here!

Madeline Coleman unveiled her F1 Academy season preview this week. Then, she dropped a cool profile on this weekend’s F1 Academy wild card driver, Reema Juffali, a native Saudi.

By the way, F1 Academy held its first race of the season on Friday (Doriane Pin led every lap and won). It was good racing—plenty of overtakes, a cat-and-mouse game up front between Pin and Abbi Pulling, drivers punching their steering wheels after getting spun out—all the good stuff. More than 22,000 people tuned in on YouTube, and over 47,000 followed via Live on X (formerly Twitter).

And, following his father’s comments last weekend, Verstappen made a point to reaffirm his long-term commitment to Red Bull.

Lead image: Getty Images

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