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Red Bull team boss Christian Horner is the most controversial figure in Formula 1

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Red Bull team boss Christian Horner is the most controversial figure in Formula 1

An employee has made allegations against him that revolve around inappropriate behavior and abuse of power. Horner’s downfall could be that he has alienated himself from important players in the scene. But he doesn’t show anything.

Formula 1 team boss Christian Horner: Few people can deal with egos as skillfully and at the same time be as ruthless as him.

DPPI / Imago

It’s a nice gift in the Horner house – at least the one in the new season of the Netflix series “Drive to Survive”. In episode two, the host, Christian Horner, orders Santa Claus to his country estate in central England. Santa Claus asks: “Was Dad really good this year?” The children have to think about it first. Geri Halliwell, former Spice Girl and married to Horner since 2015, shouts from the background: “He won a World Cup!” Is that all that matters in the life of Formula 1’s longest-serving team boss?

The interested viewer will also remember Horner’s precise instructions to Santa Claus: “One minute, then ring the bell.” This is how Horner can always be seen at the command post at Red Bull Racing: as someone who tells everyone where to go, including three-time world champion Max Verstappen.

Without a doubt, Horner is a power man, otherwise the 50-year-old would not have led the Austrian beverage company’s party troupe to the top of the premier class of motorsport, otherwise he would not have held his position for twenty years.

But now those dark clouds have gathered after an employee made allegations against him about inappropriate behavior and abuse of power. A law firm commissioned by Red Bull cleared Horner just in time for the start of the season in Bahrain on Saturday, but will that be of any use to him? One thing is certain: Christian Horner has become the most controversial person in Formula 1.

Former racing drivers attest to his coldness reaching to the point of emotional ice age

The Horner affair has long been an affair of top motorsport. Apparently there are forces around his racing team that the once only moderately successful racing driver has become too powerful for. There are rumors of an estrangement between Horner and the corporate bosses in Austria as well as the camp of Max Verstappen, his enforcer on the racetrack. Meanwhile, 170 megabytes of data intended to incriminate Horner were also sent to around 150 recipients in the paddock. These are available to the NZZ, as is a threat of legal action from Horner’s lawyers.

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Horner has never been accused of avoiding conflict. Often enough he even stirred it up. So these days he was sitting prominently on the terrace in front of the Red Bull Racing pavilion in the paddock at the Sakhir International Circuit, as if there were no legal matter.

He speaks, laughs, eats. And almost every move he makes is accompanied by the whirring and clicking of cameras. Apparently nothing affects him. However, this appearance can be deceptive, although former racing drivers attest to his coldness reaching to the point of emotional ice age. Even Horner will hardly deny that he is particularly callous. Otherwise he would hardly have been the best man for former Formula 1 star Bernie Ecclestone, another controversial figure in the racing series.

His British humor is pronounced to the point of cynicism

Anyone who wants to follow Formula 1’s clichéd mixture of money, sex, power and engines could actually see Horner as an ideal fit. But that would be a prejudgment and would not be fair to the manager. Few understand the complex mechanisms and relationships of motorsport as well as Horner, few can deal with the egos in racing teams or sponsors as skillfully and at the same time be as ruthless at the crucial moment as he is. The 2021 final, when Red Bull forced the then race director to bend the law, is a drastic example of this. The success proved Horner right.

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It’s hard to win friends this way, but that’s not the point in this hyper-competitive environment. In the podcast “Mind, Set, Win,” Horner says the core principle of his life on the pit wall: “When you’re at the top, everyone wants to knock you down.”

His British humor is pronounced to the point of cynicism. He is often forgiven for this, as he is known as a hard worker as well as someone who is willing to sacrifice everything for racing. This stable smell, the knowledge and the appreciation in the industry distinguish him from many other governors in Formula 1. “I’m still a racer at heart,” says Horner. A similar exceptional position in terms of success, cleverness and assertiveness is otherwise only attributed to the Austrian Toto Wolff, who owns 30 percent of the shares in the Mercedes racing team.

It is not surprising that Horner and Wolff have a warm dislike for each other. Horner once told his opponent that he was certainly not one of those people who kissed his rival’s butt. His subtle smile cannot always disguise his fundamental ruthlessness – Horner is a man with many faces.

There is no suitable successor

Christian Horner would hardly see being one of the most aggressive protagonists in the racing business as an accusation, but rather as a compliment. Many attest to the passionate hunter and clay pigeon shooter that he can hold his own. He also cannot be denied his sensitivity when choosing drivers or switching to the right political side.

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So far, Horner has always been able to trust his instincts even when his chair was being sawed. When Porsche wanted to take control of his racing team a year and a half ago, he flew to the Red Bull majority owners in Thailand. And the Yoovidhya family based there is now supposed to support him in the crisis, perhaps the biggest in his two decades at the top of the team. However, it is uncertain whether he will survive it. Also because many people believe that there will be more to come.

His advantage lies precisely in the autocracy that is apparently a thorn in the side of many: There is currently no suitable successor for Horner. A successful Formula 1 team is a community of egoists, not necessarily idealists. But once this group is divided, things get complicated. Christian Horner probably still has the most difficult race of his career ahead of him.

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