Red Bull team principal Christian Horner claims a rival team targeted their sponsors after they were penalised for breaching F1’s budget cap last year.
The team denied knowingly overspending but later signed an agreement with the FIA accepting a ‘minor’ breach of the spending cap and were punished with a fine, a reduction in their spending cap for 2023 and a 10% reduction in their aerodynamic testing allowance for 12 months.
Speaking to the i newspaper, Horner claimed an unnamed rival team deliberately used the furore over their budget cap breach to target Red Bull’s sponsors.
“It tainted us,” Horner said. “These things get used by your rivals. We had one of them contacting our sponsors and partners making suggestions that we would be bringing their brands into disrepute. That was just underhand.”
Despite winning the last two drivers’ championships with Max Verstappen and dominating the 2022 season on their way to their first constructors’ title since 2013, Red Bull have at times been the subject of controversy.
The team’s intense fight with Mercedes in 2021 – where Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton clashed on multiple occasions fighting for the championship – led to heightened tensions between fans of both drivers on social media which flared again after Red Bull were found to have breached the budget cap. Horner suggests that the intensity of criticism they face would be reduced “if we had a British driver like a certain team in Brackley [Mercedes]. We are too easily seen as the bad guys.”
Red Bull have dominated the start of the 2023 season, taking two pole positions and two one-two victories in the opening two rounds in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. However, Horner says he does not expect their dominance to go unchallenged throughout the entire season.
“There is always something, always a technical directive that drops, a game changer,” Horner said.
“You can guarantee that the others will be scheming, ‘how can we slow them down’. It’s part of the game. Having lived through it before you become more seasoned in how to ride it out.”
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