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Column: F1 needs to take control of the Red Bull drama as Horner accuser files FIA complaint

If Christian Horner had his way, this messy saga over an allegation of misconduct made against him by an employee would be forgotten by now.

He was cleared of wrongdoing by parent company Red Bull ahead of Formula 1's season-opening race last month and Horner has delivered on his “business as usual" promise. Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez have gone 1-2 the first two races for Red Bull, and Horner, alongside his former pop star wife, has celebrated as Verstappen won for the 18th and 19th time in the last 20 races.

Enough is enough about the personal stuff, Horner complained after the second Red Bull rout: “I think it is time now to draw a line under it.”

It doesn't seem to be going away.

The investigation into Horner will again be a top topic when F1 this week goes to Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix. The employee who accused Horner of misconduct has been suspended by parent company Red Bull.

A communications team has now been hired by the employee, The Associated Press has learned. The employee has both exercised the right to appeal Red Bull's clearance of Horner, and as of “end of last week,” had filed a formal complaint with F1 governing body FIA, the communications firm confirmed Monday.

The FIA says only that any complaint would go to an independent compliance officer and ethics committee. Those are separate from the FIA, which happens to be currently investigating its own president over two whistleblower complaints. If that seems contradictory, welcome to the party.

F1 and its American owner, Liberty Media Co., have said nothing. Neither has any legal grounds to take any sort of action against Red Bull Racing; F1 says it's up to the FIA.

Only one of Red Bull's sponsors has publicly demanded answers, and Ford Motor Co. found that Red Bull really doesn't care what its future engine partner wants to know. The report that cleared Horner of misconduct has allegedly been withheld from anyone who has asked to see it, including stakeholders with millions pegged on the stability and excellence of Red Bull and its competitors.

So on the season has gone, already a Red Bull runaway. Horner hasn't missed a thing, remaining in his role as team principal with former “Spice Girl” wife, Geri Halliwell, by his side in celebratory support.

The easy punchline is wondering if all this drama will warrant, say, a 2-hour Netflix special on “Drive To Survive” but the truth is that serious allegations are being swept under the rug without transparency and almost certainly without the approval of the employee who brought the complaint.

F1 can't be a real sport if something official isn't done to investigate Red Bull, can it?

Red Bull would certainly be under a different level of scrutiny if it operated as a United States team, The NFL or NBA or MLB would all certainly investigate Red Bull and have smothered this a month ago before it became a watershed moment in a test of the entire series. Even if some details were kept private, punishments would not.

The FIA rules required a complaint to be lodged and now, officially, one has been lodged.

Someone has to step up and push this toward resolution, to show leadership of a series that has done nothing but grow in popularity for the past decade-plus. The FIA seems toothless here; it is still stinging from its offseason investigation into the potential sharing of information between Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, and his wife, Susie, who as head of the F1 Academy is an F1 employee.

The FIA said there had been a complaint; the next day, all nine other teams released identically worded statements denying they'd complained and the FIA quickly closed the investigation. Susie Wolf is still awaiting an apology from the FIA.

This topic has sucked all the air out of the room for F1. Nothing else matters right now, from Lewis Hamilton's final season at Mercedes and the leadership changes at Haas to Michael Andretti's failed bid to join F1 and the FIA's other investigations. All of that is secondary to Red Bull telling everyone to mind their own business.

Someone has to show what kind of business F1 really is by demanding something more out of Red Bull. Be it F1, or the FIA, or every sponsor tied to Red Bull right now, someone needs to clean this up.

Or is everyone just going to take Red Bull's word for it?

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing