Saudi GP insights: Red Bull can live without Max, F1 celebrates new rising star

Picture: Mark Thompson / Getty Images via Red Bull Content Pool.

Picture: Mark Thompson / Getty Images via Red Bull Content Pool.

Published Mar 11, 2024


Max Verstappen may be Formula One's leading driver, but Red Bull can live without him, according to the troubled team's boss Christian Horner.

Speaking after the Dutchman led Sergio Perez home in another one-two triumph at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Horner made clear his view that nobody is bigger than the team - not even a triple world champion.

On a weekend of stirring drama, meanwhile, teenage Briton Oliver Bearman finished in the points on his F1 debut with Ferrari.

AFP Sport looks at three things we learned under the lights at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on Saturday:

Horner and future of Verstappen

Red Bull's under-pressure team boss chose attack as the best form of defence when he sought to regain control of the narrative and Verstappen's future in the aftermath of his 56th career win.

Seeking to move the focus on after weeks of being the centre of attention himself, the 50-year-old Briton, who had been cleared of inappropriate conduct towards a female colleague by an internal investigation, proclaimed Red Bull's unified power.

"It's like anything in life, you can't force somebody to be somewhere just because of a piece of paper," said Horner responding to Verstappen's veiled threat to leave the team if his mentor Helmut Marko was suspended or removed.

"If somebody didn't want to be at this team, then you know, we're not going to force somebody against their will to be here. That applies whether it's a machine operator or a designer or somebody in one of the support functions, it runs through the business."

"No individual is bigger than the team. We listen to whatever Max has to say, but the team will always make the right decisions for the team."

Bearman a winner... for Netflix and Ferrari

Oliver Bearman's cool, good humour and controlled speed at the wheel made him the star of the show and a winner for both Ferrari and Netflix, the makers of the successful "Drive to Survive" fly-on-the-wall series, as well as Formula One.

The 18-year-old's talent and personality was the perfect antithesis to the Red Bull saga and raised a smile of admiration across the paddock.

Even if Carlos Sainz wins his recovery race from appendicitis to regain his seat in Australia later this month, Bearman did enough to suggest that at 18 years and 305 days he is one to watch -– and has set a high bar for the arrival of seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, twice his age, next year.

Hamilton wants Mercedes changes

After 47 races without a win, Hamilton's need for a car that can compete with Ferrari and Red Bull was all too plain to see as he came home ninth in Jeddah and gained more media credit for praising and congratulating Bearman than chasing a record-increasing 104th win.

He suggested after the race that Mercedes need to make "big changes" as he was left feeling he raced in a "different category" to his rivals in the high-speed sections.

"We'll keep working," promised the former world champion. "We need big changes."

Bearman's arrival also accentuated that Hamilton is in the autumn of his career and cannot wait much longer - whether it be with Mercedes of Ferrari, who were the second fastest team - for improvements.

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