Max Verstappen 'refuses' dramatic Christian Horner request from FIA president

Three-time world champion Max Verstappen has reportedly rejected a request to publicly back Christian Horner from FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem. The scandal around Horner dominated the opening race of the Grand Prix season in Bahrain, which Verstappen won at a canter from Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez.

The storm clouds around Horner momentarily lifted last week when following an internal investigation, he was cleared of inappropriate behaviour towards a female employee. But the saga erupted again on Friday when messages allegedly sent by the 50-year-old were leaked to a host of journalists.

And following Saturday’s race, Max’s father Jos launched an extraordinary rant on the Team Principal, accusing him of ‘playing the victim’. “It cannot continue this way,” he said. “The situation is not good for the team and is driving people apart. He is playing the victim when he is the one causing problems.”

Max himself has thus far declined to comment on the Horner situation. But on Sunday, the Telegraaf reported that the three-time world champion had turned down a request from Ben Sulayem to publicly back the Team Principal.

The BBC then stated it had independently verified that the FIA president had requested Verstappen to publicly endorse Horner. The Dutchman shared a close relationship with Horner since joining the Red Bull set-up back in 2015, but his father is also a renowned influence on his career and travels with him to every Grand Prix.

But tension within the ranks of the constructors’ champions is nothing new, with Horner already reportedly at odds with advisor Helmut Marko. The company ownership model is also proving divisive, with 51% owned by the Thai Yoovidhya family and 49% by Red Bull in Austria.

On Friday, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali met with Ben Sulayem to discuss the issues around Horner. But the man himself remained resolute in Bahrain, insisting the team remained close-knit.

Asked on Sky Sports if he would still be in position for the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix this coming weekend, he replied: “Yes, absolutely. I wouldn’t be here otherwise We are a very strong team.”

But whether his No.1 driver opts to back him publicly could be critical to his future. Express Sport has contacted the FIA for comment.