Christian Horner isn’t using mental health as a ‘deflection technique’

Christian Horner has been accused of using mental health as a deflection tactic against the criticism the team has faced following the 'Cashgate' scandal.

Max Verstappen, Christian Horner, and the Red Bull team in general are seemingly at the front of every Formula 1 bulletin currently, and it is understandable why.

The revelation that is the ‘Cashgate’ scandal has rocked the sport, with the whole situation having been amplified by the fact that Verstappen did, rightly or wrongly, win the 2021 World Drivers’ Championship.

Verstappen’s maiden title did, of course, come under the most bizarre of circumstances, following former race director Michael Masi’s ‘human error’, as judged by the FIA.

There is no question that neither Verstappen, or Red Bull can be blamed for what happened last year, with that responsibility firmly on Masi and the governing body for failing to implement a correct support network for the undeniably under-pressure Australian.

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What Red Bull can be blamed for, though, is breaching the 2021 budget cap of $145 million, something which has seen the dangerous word of ‘cheaters’ thrown around.

The facts over the cap are simple; did Red Bull breach the limit? Yes.

Did Red Bull gain an unfair performance advantage as a result of the breach? No one knows, except Horner.

Horner has previously stated during interviews that Verstappen’s title-winning 2021 car had “zero benefit” from the breach, which appears to be down to catering and ‘sick pay’.

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There is no doubt that $2.2 million isn’t a small sum, but does it represent an issue with the sport if the teams have to budget employee care and wellbeing?

As a result of the breach, Verstappen and Red Bull have been victims of foul-mouthed social media trolls, who have blasted the comment sections of virtually every post with in-humane language.

Social media toxicity is a whole other issue in its own right; however, it does have a powerful and damaging effect on mental health.

Verstappen and Red Bull decided at the recent Mexican Grand Prix that they would boycott all interviews with broadcaster, Sky, in retaliation to comments made by the network and “one particular person”.

That “particular person” is experienced journalist Ted Kravitz, who has been one of the most honest members of the media in regard to the 2021 season finale.

Kravitz has never blamed Verstappen for what happened; rather that it was Masi who ‘robbed’ Lewis Hamilton of an eighth World Championship, something there can be no argument about.

Had there been no issues with the season finale last year, then the FIA wouldn’t have investigated it, let alone admit that Masi did fail to follow the sport’s rulebook, due to ‘human error’.

Nevertheless, Verstappen felt that Sky were “disrespecting” him, and if that is truly the case, then actually kudos to the Dutchman for wanting to take a break from what he deemed to be negativity, especially at a time when mental health across the globe in all disciplines is as fragile as it is.

Mental health, though, is something that Horner has admitted members of his side are being affected by following the online abuse they’ve been subject to since the 2021 finale and most recently due to the budget cap scandal.

Journalist Matthew Syed, however, believes Horner is using mental health as a “blatant deflection technique”, something which personally, I can’t agree with.

Syed wrote the following on Twitter to promote his piece in The Times, titled ‘Delusional Horner is tarnishing the whole sport of Formula One’.

“Christian Horner is tarnishing F1,” Syed wrote on Twitter.

“Red Bull broke the rules but Horner says criticism is affecting the mental health of the team.

“This is a blatant deflection technique but also trivialises the difficulties of people with real mental health problems.”

In his piece, Syed states that the 2022 Constructors’ World Champions are using “bullying and mental health” as a cover-up for their “own” error, in regard to ‘Cashgate’.

Syed goes on even further to explain that the team essentially only have themselves to blame for their own “mental health issues”, something I like to believe Hannah Schmitz would politely disagree with.  

“How dare the Red Bull principal deploy sensitive moral issues such as bullying and mental health to deflect from his own rule-breaking,” Syed wrote in his The Times.

“If there are mental health issues at Red Bull as a result of their rule breach, the responsibility lies with them and them alone; not with those who have criticised them.”

To question someone’s mental health is, I believe, an extremely dangerous move at a time when it is such a pressing issue, just in motorsport alone.

If Horner truly was using mental health as a deflection of what the team has done wrong, then I would like to assume that this is something which would result in the team principal being fired by the Austrians, considering how often personnel from the side have been victims of online abuse and more than likely mental health issues.

Should Red Bull have breached the cap? No, of course not; however, is that the fault of every employee working for them, absolutely not.

Mistakes in life happen, in all areas of it, with Formula 1 quite clearly being no exception.

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Mental health is a real issue that should be dealt with constructively, not by blaming people for bringing it upon themselves.

Syed’s point on Hamilton is absolutely correct; he should be an eight-time World Champion, but he’s not and we need to move on from that.

It’s time for the media to start supporting the fight for those suffering from mental health, rather than adding fuel to the ever-growing fragile fire.

Disclaimer: This is an opinion article and the views contained within it are strictly of the author.