As Red Bull copes with Adrian Newey’s exit, its F1 rivals look to take advantage

Before Sunday’s Miami Grand Prix shifted Formula One into a feel-good news cycle surrounding Lando Norris’s maiden race win, there was only one story in town.

Red Bull — which has faced a turbulent start to the year in the wake of allegations made against team principal Christian Horner and an ensuing power struggle — now had to cope with the upcoming departure of Adrian Newey, the greatest car designer in F1 history, after 19 years of service.

At the moment, Red Bull seems well placed to absorb the blow of losing Newey, with a strong technical group beneath him. Moreover, Max Verstappen, who had stressed the importance of the team keeping key figures when Helmut Marko’s position came into question a couple of months ago, radiated calm in a packed media session Thursday. Sure, he’d rather Newey had stayed, but he had faith in the technical group at the team, and said he had no reason to consider leaving.

Horner claimed after the race in Miami that Red Bull had been laying the foundations for a post-Newey era since 2014, when the designer was, according to Horner, “very close” to leaving the team. Earlier this year, it locked its technical director, Pierre Wache, into a new long-term contract. “We’re well positioned for the future,” Horner said. “We always knew this day was coming.”

Newey’s appeal to Red Bull’s rivals is evident, with Ferrari the heavy favorite to land his signature when he becomes a free agent early next year. Lewis Hamilton said he’d “very much” like Newey to join him at Maranello from 2025 and that it would be a “privilege” to work with him at last. Flattering words, but Newey himself, in his only media interview of the weekend with Sky Sports, said for now it was time to “take a little bit of a break and see what happens next.”

Yet through the news cycle churn that has kept Red Bull firmly in the headlines this season, Newey’s departure — influenced by the team’s power struggle and tension — could seem like more than one senior figure leaving the team. Zak Brown, McLaren Racing’s CEO, stoked that narrative during Friday’s FIA press conference when he said he wasn’t surprised by Newey’s decision “given everything that’s gone on since the start of the year” at Red Bull, calling Newey a “very high-integrity individual.”

“The stuff that’s going on there is a bit destabilizing,” Brown said of Red Bull. “(Newey’s) probably the first domino to fall. My guess is not the last, based on the resumes that are flying around.” He claimed McLaren had “seen an increase in CVs coming our way” from Red Bull employees.

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 05: Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner and Mercedes GP Executive Director Toto Wolff talk in the Team Principals Press Conference during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Miami at Miami International Autodrome on May 05, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The rivalry between Christian Horner (left) and Toto Wolff is well-known and long-running. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said Brown was “absolutely correct,” and that his team had also “seen Red Bull CVs through all of the levels.” He did add the caveat that it was “not anything out of the ordinary” given the amount of employee transfer there always is between teams, particularly with the close proximity of F1’s British-based outfits.

In F1’s piranha club, such comments are part of the game. Wolff and Horner’s rivalry is long-running and well-known, while it was far from the first time there has been this kind of crossfire between Brown and Horner. Brown was one of Red Bull’s staunchest critics in 2022, when it emerged the team had breached the budget cap the previous year, and he has been a leading voice in concerns over the close relationship between Red Bull and its sister team, RB.

Wolff’s soft pursuit of Verstappen in recent weeks, indicating a decision on his future is the key to the driver market amid suggestions there could be talks with Mercedes, has also contributed to the cross-team battles. Horner was irked by Wolff’s comments about Verstappen in China, suggesting Verstappen had “depth” that meant he’d be motivated by more than having the quickest car. Horner responded by asking why Verstappen would want to leave, and suggested Wolff should focus on Mercedes’ on-track struggles rather than the driver market. Red Bull’s managing director, Oliver Mintzlaff, also gave a rare interview with the Bild Am Sonntag newspaper last weekend in which he criticized Wolff and said there was zero concern of Verstappen considering a move away.

On Sunday, Horner said such efforts from Brown and Wolff to try to destabilize Red Bull were “inevitable” and that “knowing the two candidates involved, they talk a lot. I’m not going to get sucked into a tit-for-tat.”

“I’d be more focused on Toto’s own issues that he has,” Horner added. “I don’t have any concern with (Red Bull’s) strength in depth. There’s always going to be movement between teams. I don’t know how many people we’ve employed from McLaren this year, or how many people (RB) have employed.

“Mercedes, we’ve taken 220 people — 220 — out of HPP (Mercedes High Performance Powertrains) into Red Bull Powertrains. So when we’re talking of losing people, I’d be more worried about the 220 than one or two CVs.”

Horner deflected a suggestion Newey’s exit was linked to his own issues at the top of the team, saying the reasons behind the decision were “very clear.” He also downplayed a report from The Times that suggested Red Bull’s sporting director, Jonathan Wheatley, could seek an exit to further his ambition of becoming a team principal, saying there were “rumors about everybody” and that contracts weren’t something the team would discuss publicly.

But as fallout continues from all that has happened this year, and with the appeal of the dismissal of the grievance made against Horner still ongoing, Red Bull’s rivals are not going away quietly.

Horner may have faith in the strength in depth of his operation, yet that won’t stop his counterparts such as Wolff and Brown doing what they can to gain an edge, no matter how small.

(Lead photo of Zak Brown and Adrian Newey: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto)

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