Christian Horner is exonerated – but Red Bull probe serves as reminder to all in F1

The Red Bull F1 boss has been cleared of an allegation of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ from a female colleague

Kieran Jackson
Formula 1 Correspondent
Thursday 29 February 2024 11:05 GMT
Christian Horner says allegations are 'distraction' for Red Bull as he breaks silence

Twenty-three days after allegations of “inappropriate behaviour” first emerged through whispers in the Dutch press, and following countless denials on the eve of the new Formula One season, Red Bull boss Christian Horner has finally won the battle of his life.

Touching down in the Middle East on Wednesday night, Horner will be one relieved man stepping off his private jet. A team principal and chief executive who has barely missed a race since taking the reins at the inception of his Red Bull team in 2005, the 50-year-old will take his usual place on the pit wall at the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend as a man exonerated.

The statement on Wednesday afternoon from Red Bull GmbH – the parent company, based in Salzburg, of Horner’s Red Bull Racing – was unwavering. It spoke of an investigation, outsourced to an external KC, which was “fair, rigorous and impartial” and a “grievance” which has now been dismissed.

Indeed, the final document sent to Red Bull HQ over the weekend was said to have contained more than 100 pages. Horner himself was interviewed for 10 hours at a secret location in London on 9 February. The matter has dragged on and on, through Red Bull’s high-pitched car launch in Milton Keynes and pre-season testing last week.

At times, Horner has seemed weary, consistently maintaining face and insisting “business as usual” despite the thunderstorm that has rocked his role in a sport he holds so dear to his heart. He will want to move on – and so will his world championship-winning team, the undisputed favourites to retain their titles with star driver Max Verstappen this year.

Internally, it seems it is case closed. But it may not completely be the end of the matter for Horner, husband to Spice Girl pop star Geri Halliwell. The female colleague who made the complaint does have the right to an appeal, which could extend the case further. Regardless, should she stay at the racing team, will a relationship between both parties need to be rebuilt? Can it be?

Red Bull may also face pressure and questions from their partners. The likes of Oracle, Tag Heuer and Visa all hold sponsorship deals with the team, while future engine partner Ford have been vociferous in their criticism of the probe and a “lack of transparency”. Horner may well have more than one relationship he needs to rebuild.

Horner has been cleared of allegations of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ by a female colleague (Getty)

While the finer details of the matter continue to be kept behind closed doors, the story is unlikely to completely evaporate. There have been rumblings of intra-team politics at play, involving the likes of Verstappen’s father Jos and senior advisor Helmut Marko, as well as talk of Salzburg wanting to wrestle back more control from the racing base in Milton Keynes.

For F1 as a sport – and increasingly lucrative commercial entity – it should serve as a lesson and a reminder too. Respected F1 pundit Martin Brundle told Sky Sports that “mud sticks”, adding: “It’s a global story – and it’s damaging for Christian and Formula One.”

Horner will be in the paddock this weekend at the Bahrain Grand Prix (Getty)

Since the Drive to Survive-inspired boom of the sport in the last five years or so, F1 has done vast amounts of work to diversify its workforce and cleanse its previous image of a billion-pound boys club. Most outfits have placed huge focus on increasing the visibility and employment of women and those from an ethnic minority. Next week in Saudi Arabia, all 10 teams will be represented by female talent in the first race of the 2024 F1 Academy season, the all-female racing series.

The biggest proponent of all of this – a push for inclusivity he will continue to persevere with at Ferrari next year – has been seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton: the sport’s only Black driver.

“We always have to do more to try to make the sport and the environment for people to work in feel safe and inclusive,” Hamilton said on Wednesday, addressing the Horner probe prior to the judgment being publicised. “It is a really important moment for the sport to make sure that we stand true to our values.”

No more is F1 exclusively male and white. Some conversations and topics of banter in the paddock, acceptable 20 years ago, will clearly not be deemed appropriate now. Red Bull concluded their statement by insisting the company will “continue striving to meet the highest workplace standards.”

Behaviour and conduct must be respectful. Irrespective of the back-and-forth content of this investigation, people of the paddock should take note of the past three weeks with caution, ahead of a record 24-race season which is sure to test the physical and mental capabilities of everyone. A season Horner and his Red Bull team are expected to dominate once again, despite the dark cloud which has impacted their preparations this past month.

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