ALISON BOSHOFF: Why does the father of Red Bull’s star driver loathe Geri’s husband so much? Is it because of Jos Verstappen’s friendship with the woman at the heart of the sex text scandal engulfing Christian Horner?

The good people in the Red Bull F1 press office continue to insist all is well. Move along, they say, nothing to see. ‘There are no issues here. The team are united and we are focused on racing,’ says a spokesman.

But it has been a torrid week for them and, frankly, it’s getting murkier by the day.

To recap: last Wednesday, the team declared that its £8million-a-year boss Christian Horner had not acted inappropriately with a female co-worker… only to wake up 24 hours later to the widespread leak of a cache of ‘sexts’ allegedly sent by Horner to a female employee.

For legal reasons the 79 files, mostly screenshots of conversation but also some pictures, cannot be reproduced here. 

However, it has been claimed that they show Horner repeatedly pestering his colleague for pictures of herself, calling her late at night, and making it plain he finds her sexually arousing.

On Saturday at the Bahrain Grand Prix — the first Formula 1 race of the season — for the briefest of moments, things were looking up for Horner again.

Jos Verstappen, father of F1 driver Max, ‘rowing’ with Christian Horner in Bahrain last month

Jos Verstappen, father of F1 driver Max, ‘rowing’ with Christian Horner in Bahrain last month

His wife, former pop star Geri Halliwell-Horner — admittedly looking a bit like a fragile Stepford Spice — presented a united, if tense, domestic front, while Red Bull shareholder Chalerm Yoovidhya, a Horner champion, was all smiles and his wife, Daranee, all kisses in the Paddock.

Red Bull’s star driver, Max Verstappen, duly won the race — and it genuinely looked as if the rumpus might die down and Red Bull could continue as the dominant power in F1.

Until, that is, Jos Verstappen entered the fray.

The father and mentor of Max — often called Horner’s ‘nemesis’ — has come out swinging, telling one interviewer the situation may ‘explode’ if Horner remains at the helm of Red Bull.

‘There is tension here while he [Horner] remains in position. The team is in danger of being torn apart,’ Jos said.

‘It can’t go on the way it is. It will explode. He is playing the victim, when he is the one causing the problems.’

In a separate interview, Jos insisted: ‘The situation is not good for the team and is driving people apart.’

All in all, it amounts to an open declaration of war. On Friday in Bahrain, the two men were spotted locked in what looked like a very heated argument, with footage showing them gesticulating crossly at each other.

Indeed, Formula 1 insiders say that a schism has been opening up for some years, with the Verstappens on one side and Horner on the other.

The question is why? Certainly Jos Verstappen and Christian Horner have wildly different personal styles. Smooth-talking Horner loves the limelight, social status and luxury. His life is all about racehorses, private jets, billionaire friends and mixing with the Cotswolds ‘in-crowd’.

Max Verstappen, who won the Bahrain Grand Prix at the weekend, with Red Bull boss Horner

Max Verstappen, who won the Bahrain Grand Prix at the weekend, with Red Bull boss Horner

Jos, who is Dutch, has traveller heritage and whose grandfather ran a scrapyard, is a plain-speaking, beer-loving macho man.

In an interview he gave around a decade ago he said: ‘I just cannot cope with injustice and dishonesty. When stuff like that happens, I go mental.’

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Jos, too, was an F1 driver, and though his son, Max, is vastly more successful than he ever was, it certainly appears he has precious little respect for Horner’s short-lived competitive career in Formula Three and Two.

Jos’s friends are racing royalty, like the Schumachers, not showbiz entertainers such as Gary Barlow, who sang at Horner’s recent 50th birthday party.

But that’s not all.

Jos, say sources, is friendly with the female co-worker who is said to have complained about Horner. She remains a Red Bull employee based at Milton Keynes. The two of them were said to have looked cosy on a yacht in Abu Dhabi in November 2021, celebrating Red Bull’s victory at a Grand Prix.

Jos, who turned 52 yesterday and is married, is no one’s idea of Rudolph Valentino… but that hasn’t discouraged the talk in the F1 Paddock.

Could Jos’s friendship with the Red Bull employee have been a factor in what appears to be a profound dislike of Horner?

Jos has denied he leaked the files last week, and has also denied leaking news of the grievance procedure against Horner to a Dutch newspaper.

But the situation now is that Jos is openly teasing the possibility that his son — Red Bull’s superstar driver and the winner of the last three F1 Championships — could leave and go to a rival unless Horner is moved on.

No one knows for sure whether this is a genuine threat or pure bluff, but the consensus among insiders is that it’s almost certainly the latter.

Few think he will succeed in unseating Horner. And fewer still think Jos will encourage his son to leave Red Bull for another team, even though he very ostentatiously had a dinner in Bahrain with the head of Mercedes, Toto Wolff, who is looking for someone to replace Lewis Hamilton.

Red Bull are simply too successful for Max Verstappen to quit.

That doesn’t mean Christian Horner is a popular figure. Indeed, I’m told that neither Jos Verstappen nor Horner enjoy widespread support, even if Red Bull Racing is split in two.

Jos's relationship with his son Max, pictured together, is said to be close

Jos’s relationship with his son Max, pictured together, is said to be close

Yesterday came further misery for the team with the publication of a 19-page dossier by trade publication BusinessF1 Magazine. Making a series of new allegations against Horner, the article names the female member of staff he is alleged to have texted and documents at length the power struggle at the top of Red Bull.

It all adds up to a tricky situation for Horner, made worse by the fact that if you were to pick an enemy, you would not want it to be burly Jos Verstappen.

A born battler, twice divorced, in 2012 he was briefly held in prison over allegations he had tried to run over a former girlfriend. One ex-wife complained of harassment, and in 1998 there was an altercation at a karting track which ended with a stranger suffering a fractured skull after falling out with Jos and his father, Frans.

Add in the notorious incident when he abandoned the then 15-year-old Max at a petrol station after a disappointing race, and another when he felt his son had driven ‘like a potato’ and biffed him square on the helmet when he got out of his go-kart, and you have a man who most would hesitate to cross.

Those on the grid say he doesn’t exude overt physical menace, but is a ‘brooding figure’.

‘He’s not outwardly physically nasty, but he is intimidating in some ways. He has an aura about him,’ said one.

His relationship with his son, however, is close — Max has the best of his driving abilities without the wildness which made Jos notorious on the track.

In his driving heyday, he was known as ‘Jos the Boss’ and was Michael Schumacher’s team-mate at Benetton.

In an interview he said: ‘My granddad owned a scrapyard where I spent day and night riding my motor-cross bike and working on my own old car.

‘I would tinker with all kinds of stuff, rebuild bikes, weld, you name it.

‘I started to race at an early age. First in karts and then the big step into motor racing. When I was 19 I drove my first laps on the Zandvoort track [in Holland] in an old 1978 Formula Ford.

‘Two-and-a-half years later I had my first go in Formula 1. Perhaps it all went too fast. You think you’ve achieved the dream, but that is really the moment the journey starts.

Horner's wife, former pop star Geri Halliwell-Horner, presented a united, if tense, domestic front in Bahrain at the weekend

Horner’s wife, former pop star Geri Halliwell-Horner, presented a united, if tense, domestic front in Bahrain at the weekend

‘The next goal was to win races, but I never managed to do so. I was too inexperienced and I was part of a top team too early. I should have started in a mid-table outfit, learn the trade and then progress to a top team.

‘I straight away entered Formula 1 as Michael Schumacher’s team mate. In my opinion, he is the best, while I arrived as an inexperienced rookie. I made plenty of mistakes and I often failed to see the chequered flag.’

There was a decade of Formula 1 racing, including a serious crash resulting in a fire, which he was lucky to escape uninjured. He retired in 2003, and later said: ‘After I quit racing . . . I had a very tough time. If you are hard to handle, your response can be even more explosive.’

He married leading go-kart racer Sophie Kumpen in 1996 — in her top-flight days she beat Jensen Button and Jarno Trulli — and they had their son, Max, in 1997 and daughter, Victoria, in 1999.

In 2008 they split, and in December that year Jos appeared in court in Tongeren, Belgium, charged with assaulting her. He was found not guilty of assault, but guilty of threatening her in text messages and of violating a previously issued restraining order. He was fined and received a three-month suspended jail sentence. Nevertheless Max, then only 11, went to live with his father and they dedicated themselves to building his driving career.

(Jos went on to marry and divorce Kelly van der Waal with whom he had daughter Blue Jaye, and he is now married to Sandy Sijtsma, with whom he had a son, Jason Jaxx, in 2019 and daughter, Mila Faye, in 2022.)

Jos had started training Max at the age of four, after Sophie told him the boy was standing alongside the track crying.

‘I thought he was too young, but they kept asking so I gave in,’ Jos said in an interview.

‘After that, week after week, I drove with him on a track. I instantly saw he had what it takes. In his first four years, he won 58 out of 60 races.’

Aged nine, Max was a champion in Belgium and the Netherlands; by 13 he had won three titles in Europe. He was World and European karting champion by 16.

Jos was devoted to Max’s success, driving him up to 100,000 km a year in a van across Europe. Tough love was the order of the day. Max would be told to keep driving on freezing winter afternoons, even when he complained that he couldn’t move his fingers because he was too cold.

In 2012 after Max crashed during the World Championship while trying to pass an opponent, his father ‘left’ him at a service station. Max said: ‘My dad was really upset and disappointed in me. He broke down the tent, everything, he threw it in the van.

‘I had to pick up the kart with a friend after the race because my dad said I had to do it myself.

‘We sat in the van on our way back home. I wanted to talk about what happened, my opinion about the incident, but my dad didn’t want to talk to me.

‘I kept trying, and at one point he stopped at a fuel station, and he’s like: “Get out, I don’t want to talk to you any more”.’

Jos did return soon afterwards to pick him up, but they sat in silence for the 1,800 km trip home, and his father refused to speak to him for a week afterwards.

Max (middle) chats to Horner (also in a Red Bull shirt) and his father (right) at the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix

Max (middle) chats to Horner (also in a Red Bull shirt) and his father (right) at the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix

Jos said: ‘I wanted him to understand that he had to think. The season afterwards, we won everything. We won two European Championships, the World Championship, we won every race.

‘He was so focused: the way he was racing you could see he was thinking, and I think because of what happened at that race, it made him a better driver.’

For now, Verstappen Sr has denied the widely circulating rumours which suggest he may have had a hand in the data leak that has proved so mortifying for Horner, and at the same time made Red Bull’s investigation into allegations of sexual harassment look like a whitewash.

However, there is a belief that there may be even more texts and pictures still to come, in which case, if they involve Horner, he may have to go.

For now, the Red Bull boss is confident he is travelling to Jeddah for the next Grand Prix on Saturday, and will surely be very relieved that Jos won’t be there, since he’s driving in a rally in Europe instead.

Whatever happens next, Jos is unlikely to bury the hatchet any time soon.

Horner met yesterday with Ray Vermeulen, Max Verstappen’s co-manager, in a bid to patch up the mess. Will peace break out — and if it does, for how long?

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