Red Bull boss Christian Horner has accused a rival team of attempting to prize sponsors away from the team after it was found guilty of breaking Formula 1’s budget cap rules last year.
Although Aston Martin and Williams both totted up procedural breaches, the reigning champions were announced late last year as the only outfit to have exceeded the cost cap regulations in place for the 2021 season.
As punishment for its minor overspend, Red Bull was slapped with a $7 million fine, a reduction in its spending allowance for 2023 and 10% less aerodynamic testing time for 12 months.
Horner has now revealed that an unnamed competitor on the grid tried to take advantage of the contentious situation to steal sponsors away from Red Bull.
“It tainted us,” Horner told the i newspaper. “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.”
With Max Verstappen winning the previous two Drivers’ titles and Red Bull collecting the Constructors’ for the first time in eight years in 2022, the Austrian squad’s success has enabled it to pen a plethora of new sponsorship deals.
It was announced on the eve of the 2022 campaign that Red Bull had named American technology company Oracle as its title sponsor on a five-year deal worth an estimated $500m.
Horner disclosed at the time the lucrative agreement had taken Red Bull a big step further towards achieving its goal of running its F1 team solely from external funds.
While its revenue stream from sponsors has grown astronomically in recent years, its rise in popularity within the sport has been slightly less convincing.
The nature of Red Bull’s titanic Championship fight with Mercedes in 2021 saw a war of words ensue in the media between the two camps throughout the year – most notably between Horner and his rival counterpart, Toto Wolff.
However, the brewing tensions would spiral into outright hostility at the circuit and on social media as Verstappen passed Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the season in controversial circumstances to steal the title away.
Despite Red Bull proceeding to dominate the following season, the strenuous relationship opened new wounds when it was confirmed that the Milton-Keynes-based team had fallen foul of the cost cap restrictions in place.
Horner has claimed the animosity towards Red Bull would be reduced, however, “if we had a British driver like a certain team in Brackley [Mercedes] and stated that “we are too easily seen as the bad guys.”
While Mercedes’ struggles early in the season have prompted speculation over Lewis Hamilton’s future remaining with the German marque, Horner has already moved to rule out Red Bull making a move for the seven-time World Champion.
Sergio Perez signed a contract extension through to the end of 2024 while reigning World Champion Max Verstappen is tied down on a long-term deal until 2028.
Verstappen, aiming for a third consecutive title this season, has repeatedly issued that he would be open to walking away from F1 once his current deal expires.
But when asked if he was already on the search for the next Verstappen in anticipation of his potential early exit from the sport, Horner responded: “There is not another Max.”