Spiky attitude can swing F1 title for Red Bull — but how will Porsche work with F1's most aggressive team?


The Spanish GP saw a trademark combative display by F1's most aggressive team. Red Bull's attitude might help it win another title, but it casts doubt on the success of a Porsche engine partnership

Max Verstappen holds his fingers in a v shape as he and Charles Leclerc grimace

Max Verstappen is more expressive than he realises at a Spanish GP press conference

Florent Gooden / DPPI

Pacifying and managing the no-compromise expectations of Max Verstappen must be at times exasperating and exhausting. You’d almost be moved to feel sorry for Christian Horner and Helmut Marko if… well, they were less like Christian Horner and Helmut Marko! Red Bull Racing is the spikiest, most antagonistic team on the Formula 1 grid, entirely by design, and it boasts a driver who is perfectly in tune with that aesthetic. The angst is all part of what makes it such a formidably effective racing organisation that will probably carry its equally spiky number one to a second consecutive world championship this year.

We saw all shades of Verstappen on Sunday in Spain, didn’t we? There was that unforced error at Turn 4, when a gust of wind caught him out and sent him understeering into the gravel. He was lucky to get away with that one. Then there was the petulant tongue-lashing he gave the pitwall when the aggravating, intermittent DRS problem reared its head. “We can’t even make the f****** DRS work, man! Unbelievable,” was the intended bit of red-mist spite he offered up, presumably in reference to the reliability niggles Red Bull has endured this year that have led Verstappen to twice retire from grands prix.

Then there was the other side of this remarkable force of nature: the sheer pace he can turn on, which we take for granted, and the audacious Turn 12 pass on Valtteri Bottas. OK, it was ‘only’ an Alfa Romeo, but few others would have tried it there and pulled it off. Was it me or was there a slight hint of a blush in the wake of his temper tantrums when he radioed in after the flag to acknowledge how they had pulled it all back from a tricky situation? Maybe, maybe not. But the contrast to Charles Leclerc’s admirable poise and public good grace in the immediate aftermath of his devastating retirement from a comfortable lead was stark, and not for the first time.

Valtteri Bottas ahead of MAx Verstappen in the 2022 Spanish Grand Prix

Bold pass on Bottas was classic Verstappen

Eric Alonso/Getty Images

As for Sergio Perez, he felt hard done by and more than a little second-best in the team’s priorities. But what does he expect? He knew what he was getting into when Red Bull plucked him from nothing very much last year, after Aston Martin had thanked him for his service to Racing Point. Perez, for the first time, has a race- and championship-winning car to savour, but pays a heavy price for the privilege, teamed with Verstappen. It’s hardly a shock when the Mexican is compromised in such a scenario. Live with it, Checo… or don’t.

At 24, Verstappen has now won 24 grands prix, stepping clear of his girlfriend’s old man Nelson Piquet, equal to the great Juan Manuel Fangio and closing fast on the marks set by Niki Lauda, Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart. He’ll likely surpass them all and by some margin by the time he’s done, on an assumption he avoids injury or any other unforeseen career interruption. But while Verstappen absolutely belongs among such company, the Spanish GP on a surface level was a reminder that he lacks the maturity of the legends around him.

Then again, will he ever change? Would he have any desire to? And for all the verbal grief he gives the team in the heat of the moment, would Red Bull want him any other way? That edginess and rage is all part of the character that makes him what he is. It’s why he’ll never compromise on his all-in attitude to a gap and an apex. Perhaps it was also why Verstappen himself didn’t raise a complaint when George Russell brilliantly gave a dose of his own treatment in his stoic defence on Sunday. The team, of course, radioed to Verstappen to ‘warn’ him the Mercedes was apparently changing line in the braking zone at Turn 1 and allegedly not giving a car’s width through Turn 3 – messages clearly intended not for its driver but for the race director, without crossing the new line of lobbying directly… The team would argue it was simply doing what it must to protect or further its own interests, which is fair enough. Still, it was niggly and annoying. Very Red Bull.

Christian Horner Max Verstappen and Helmut Marko scowling

F1’s brat pack?

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Everything about this team-driver partnership suggests they are made for each other – which is just as well, given that Max has signed a five-year contract extension that should at least keep him at Red Bull until the end of 2028. For all his barbs, who else could live with him? He wouldn’t enjoy Ferrari politics and Maranello carries too many flaws and imperfections to satisfy those demands, while the only other team worthy of his talent, Mercedes, just doesn’t fit. At least not while Toto Wolff is running the operation. When push came to shove (which it would and often), Wolff’s ego wouldn’t be able to accept the blunt criticism and individual approach that is part of Verstappen’s strength. The more you think about, Max appears to be a one-team driver – which doesn’t mean, of course, that he won’t be tempted away at some point in what could be a long career.

The combination is the motor racing equivalent of The Clash: usually inspired and cutting-edge, always awkward and aggressive, forever railing against the establishment (even when their success inevitably means they ascend to such heights themselves). It’s as close to a punk ethos as a modern F1 team is ever likely to get, which means it makes one squirm from time to time, as the team revels in and feeds off its indie status. Us against them is an age-old motivational tool.

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In Horner, the team boasts a shrewd operator who is always searching for an angle. His latest declarations, that teams will be forced to miss races this year because of the state of inflation and the knock-on effect of the cost of living crisis within the confines of a budget cap, could be translated as a typically outrageous play to win his team wiggle-room on development spend. Again, he’d say he’s just doing his job, that it’s about rising freight costs rather than giving Adrian Newey’s design team more scope to eke extra speed from the RB18 – but F1 will be wary, probably more so given who this unsettling warning is coming from. Give Red Bull an inch…

So credit where it’s due: Red Bull is devastatingly effective, on and off the track, and in its own inimitable way. But now throw a potential partnership with Porsche into the mix: how might this enhance – or unsettle – a potent but combustible alchemy? If the lengthy negotiations do lead to VW pressing the big green button, there will be plenty of questions left hanging about how it will work. Porsche would surely demand, for starters, a stake in not only the big decisions, but also day-to-day matters too. How could a major car maker not have at least some control, when its reputation and values are on the line? And how would Horner deal with that? What about that arch diplomat, Marko?

In its spirited independence and absolute faith in its own convictions, Red Bull carries some parallels to Williams from the days when Frank ’n Patrick were on top of their game. Red Bull could gain massively from a Porsche relationship, of course it could – certainly financially, also technically and perhaps even operationally. Although the marketing approaches might jar. Overall, it’s a scenario that one could imagine going the way of the Williams-BMW marriage in those first years of the new millennium. That one ended in a bad-tempered divorce, BMW feeling compelled to go its own way, control its own destiny, and buy another team (Sauber). Williams-BMW ended up a missed opportunity, and Red Bull-Porsche would be hard pressed to avoid a similar fate.

For now, Verstappen will continue to rail, to bitch and moan in the moment when things go wrong, and Red Bull will live with his raging self-entitlement for as long as Max remains the most effective racing driver on the grid. It works extremely well for mutual benefit. But the complications a major OEM would bring to the mix… from what we see today, does the current world champion possess the character traits, and specifically the patience, to deal with the inevitable wrinkles/bumps/hills/mountains such a partnership might create? And would Porsche be willing to put up with an edgy ‘punk’ racing star who lives on the brink of an explosion every time he steps into a cockpit?

Let’s hope it happens, just so we can find out.