Daniel Ricciardo sinks in Bahrain amid fresh storm around Red Bull's Christian Horner

The Aussie F1 driver fell away after being a surprise early leader on a day of drama at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Daniel Ricciardo, pictured here alongside Christian Horner.
Daniel Ricciardo crashed back to earth amid new dramas around Red Bull boss Christian Horner. Image: Getty

Daniel Ricciardo fell off the pace on a dramatic opening day of the new F1 season in Bahrain, which saw fresh allegations levelled against Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. After he surprisingly topped the timesheets in the first practice session on Thursday, Ricciardo finished the day as the 12th fastest driver for Red Bull's rebranded sister team RB.

Ricciardo stunned as he initially emerged as the quickest driver early on Thursday, but it soon emerged that the first practice session was run in completely unrepresentative conditions. Lewis Hamilton led teammate George Russell in a surprise Mercedes one-two in the second session, with reigning world champion Max Verstappen only sixth.

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Oscar Piastri also enjoyed a good first day, with the Aussie finishing fifth in the second practice session in his McLaren after a third-place effort in the morning session. Hamilton lapped the Sakhir desert track in a best time of one minute, 30.374 seconds, while Russell was 0.206 seconds adrift and Fernando Alonso in third for Aston Martin.

Triple world champion Verstappen, who won the Bahrain Grand Prix last year and chalked up 19 victories in 22 races, was off the pace by 0.477. "It's a shock to see us where we are but we'll take it for now," Hamilton said afterwards.

"But we can't get ahead of ourselves. We need to keep our heads down and keep working on the setup ... I think our long run pace is nowhere near the Red Bulls, for example, so we've got some work to do there."

Lewis Hamilton at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton in practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix. (NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Christian Horner rocked by new scandal on eve of Bahrain GP

Verstappen's early flop came amid fresh drama for Red Bull team principal Horner, who was thrust back in the spotlight after WhatsApp messages appearing to be sent by him were leaked. On Wednesday, Horner had been cleared to continue in his role following an internal probe by the F1 team's parent company Red Bull GmbH over alleged 'inappropriate' behaviour.

But just 24 hours later, hundreds of messages and a number of images apparently between Horner and the complainant were sent from an anonymous email account to members of the F1 paddock. The recipients of the alleged messages included FIA president Mohamed ben Sulayem, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and the grid's nine other team principals, as well as the media.

Christian Horner and Daniel Ricciardo.
Christian Horner and Daniel Ricciardo in 2023. (Getty Images)

It is unclear whether the alleged exchanges formed part of the Red Bull investigation which cleared Horner of "inappropriate behaviour" towards a female colleague - or whether it is new evidence. Horner responded in a statement on Thursday night, saying: "I will not comment on anonymous speculation, but to reiterate I have always denied the allegations.

"I respected the integrity of the independent investigation and fully cooperated with it every step of the way. It was a thorough and fair investigation conducted by an independent specialist barrister and it has concluded dismissing the complaint made. I remain fully focused on the start of the season".

Christian Horner and wife Geri Halliwell.
Christian Horner is married to former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell. Image: Getty

Horner's wife and former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell was reportedly planning to join him in Bahrain this weekend. But there was no sign of her on Thursday as the fresh scandal erupted.

Horner, who protested his innocence throughout the investigation, was questioned by a lawyer for eight hours earlier this month at a secret London location. He has been Red Bull team principal since the team entered F1 over 19 years ago and is the longest-serving boss on the grid.

with agencies

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