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WhatsApp leak reignites speculation on Christian Horner's future in Formula 1

Christian Horner's Formula One future is back in the spotlight after WhatsApp messages appearing to be sent by him have been leaked.

On Wednesday, Horner was cleared to continue as Red Bull team principal following an internal probe by the F1 team's parent company Red Bull GmbH.

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 – including FIA president Mohamed ben Sulayem, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and the grid's nine other team principals, as well as the media – on the eve of this weekend's season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

It is unclear at this stage whether the alleged exchanges formed part of the investigation – of which Horner was cleared of "inappropriate behaviour" towards a female colleague – or whether it was new evidence.

Horner has always denied the claims.

Horner said in a statement on Thursday night: "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."

Horner, 50, was on the Red Bull pit wall on Thursday for both practice sessions.

He left the paddock at 10:47pm local time with the team's chief's designer Adrian Newey.

Speaking on Sky Sports earlier on Thursday, Horner said: "I am pleased that the process is over, and I cannot comment about it.

"I am here to focus on the grand prix and the season ahead and trying to defend both of our titles."

Horner added: "I can't give you any further comment, but the process has been conducted and concluded.

"I am pleased to be here in Bahrain, and with the team, focused on the season ahead. Within the team it (the unity) has never been stronger."

Before the alleged WhatsApp exchanges between Horner and the complainant were leaked, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff had challenged F1 and its governing body to demand greater transparency from Red Bull's investigation.

Red Bull GmbH, said it was confident the inquiry into Horner had been "fair, rigorous and impartial" but added that the report – understood to stretch to 150 pages – was "confidential".

It is understood that neither Formula One's owners Liberty Media, nor its regulator the FIA has seen the findings.

However, there were growing calls in Bahrain on Thursday night for Red Bull GmbH to share the details of their investigation.

"I just read the statement, which was pretty basic," said Wolff. "My personal opinion is, we can't really look behind the curtain.

"There is a lady in an organisation that has spoken to HR and said there was an issue and it was investigated and yesterday the sport has received the message that it's all fine, we've looked at it.

"I believe with the aspiration as a global sport, on such critical topics, it needs more transparency and I wonder what the sport's position is?

"We're competitors, we're a team and we can have our own personal opinions or not. But it's more like a general reaction or action that we as a sport need to assess, what is right in that situation and what is wrong.

"Are we talking with the right moral approach, with the values based on the speculation that is out there?

"As a sport, we cannot afford to leave things in the vague and in the opaque on critical topics like this, because this is going to catch us out."

Horner, who protested his innocence throughout the investigation, was questioned by a lawyer for eight hours earlier this month at a secret London location.

Horner has been Red Bull team principal since they entered F1 19 years ago and is the longest-serving boss on the grid.

He has overseen seven drivers' world championships and six constructors' titles.

Red Bull have dominated the sport in recent seasons and last year won 21 of the 22 races, with Dutch driver Max Verstappen setting a new record for 10 consecutive victories as he wrapped up his third title.

Horner, who is married to former Spice Girls singer Geri Halliwell, was awarded a CBE for his services to motorsport in the New Year Honours.

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