Red Bull face battle to stop Jos Verstappen’s ‘explosion’ prediction coming true

“The team is in danger of being torn apart, it can’t go on the way it is – it will explode.” Those were the words of Max Verstappen’s father, Jos, amid the height of the Formula One soap-opera storm two months ago in Bahrain surrounding Christian Horner and the investigation into his conduct towards a female colleague.

Verstappen Sr is not one to shirk his words. Let’s be clear: whatever the reasons, he wanted Horner out. And though the dominance of his son on the track may seem never-ending, there may now be a conclusion of sorts in sight for this Red Bull juggernaut.

The departure of star designer Adrian Newey this week – confirmed by the team on Wednesday – is the talk of the paddock heading into this weekend’s sixth round of the season in Miami, the first of three US races in 2024.

Newey, the man chiefly praised for this era of Red Bull car which has blown away the rest of the field in the last two years and counting, will leave early next year once work is complete on his RB17 supercar project. Most crucially, once gone, the 65-year-old is free to join another team.

With a 35-year career in F1 behind him, Newey has two choices. Ferrari, Red Bull’s biggest rivals, are the frontrunners, with the designer reportedly having met Scuderia team principal Fred Vasseur in London this week.

Newey has turned down the sport’s most prestigious marque three times in the past but this offer looks the most obvious next step. He would tick two boxes and fulfil two desires: working for Ferrari – and with Lewis Hamilton.

The second option – with a mooted high-money offer from Aston Martin a non-starter – is retirement. To sail off into the sunset, with 12 constructors’ titles in the trophy cabinet.

In the short-term, Red Bull or No 1 driver Verstappen should not be unduly impacted. The Dutchman is well on course for a fourth-straight drivers’ title having won four of the first five races and armed with the quickest car on the grid for the third year running. Sergio Perez, 25 points behind, cannot match his teammate’s sheer speed. Most likely, given the continuation of regulations, the 2025 season is sewn up too. Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes have some ground to make up.

Beyond that to 2026, when new engine and chassis regulations come into force, the grid’s order looks less predictable. Newey’s loss, though Red Bull have been keen to spread the praise to French engineer Pierre Wache as well, is significant. A link-up with Ferrari would give the Italian giants of the sport a clear sense of direction with Hamilton and Charles Leclerc.

But back to Horner. With the scandal that first engulfed the team three months ago still ongoing – the suspended female complainant is in the process of appealing the verdict which exonerated Horner – Newey’s departure is the first indication of Jos Verstappen’s forecast coming true. The rumblings are that Newey’s dissatisfaction with the current furore played a part in his decision to leave.

Adrian Newey (centre-right) will leave Red Bull next year (Getty Images)
Adrian Newey (centre-right) will leave Red Bull next year (Getty Images)
Jos Verstappen predicted Red Bull would ‘explode’ if Horner stayed in his position (Getty Images)
Jos Verstappen predicted Red Bull would ‘explode’ if Horner stayed in his position (Getty Images)

The first domino to fall is the most important. Red Bull have a job on now to contain the damage already done and avoid this being a sliding-door moment.

“There is tension here while he [Horner] remains in position,” Jos added, back in March. “He is playing the victim, when he is the one causing the problems.”

There are deep-rooted issues within the team, not least a power struggle between Horner and majority Thai owner Chalerm Yoovidhya on one side and Red Bull GmbH and team adviser Helmut Marko on the other. Verstappen, both father and son, side with the latter party and are fiercely loyal to Marko, who promoted Max to F1 as a 17-year-old in 2015.

Max’s future at Red Bull, which looked so secure with a contract until 2028, is now shrouded in uncertainty too. Could he be next to leave? While he is unlikely – he’d essentially be foregoing another world championship – to take Mercedes’ vacant seat in 2025, speculation is rife of the Silver Arrows offering sums as high as £128m-a-year, more than double his current salary. What looked like a pipe dream for Toto Wolff now seems, slightly, closer to reality, given the turmoil at Red Bull.

The absolute irony within this wider story is the actual sport: the racing.

Red Bull are still as dominant as they were last year – when they won 21 out of 22 races – and as the unique street track around Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium hosts the second sprint race of the season this weekend, Red Bull are heavy favourites to take top spot once more. The only doubt now, when no end seemed in sight, is that a future shake-up appears increasingly likely.