Christian Horner comes out swinging against allegations: ‘If I wasn't innocent, I wouldn’t be here’

Christian Horner at Red Bull Racing's car launch on the 20th anniversary of their involvement in Formula One
Christian Horner is facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards a colleague - Red Bull Racing

A defiant Christian Horner said he was “confident” he would clear his name following allegations of inappropriate controlling behaviour from a female colleague, adding he had no intention of leaving the team he “built”.

The Red Bull principal, who is the subject of an independent investigation launched by the team’s parent company in Austria, added that the support he had received from everyone at Red Bull, from the drivers to the shareholders to team’s partners, since the probe was made public, had been “overwhelming”. And he said he had no doubts he would be in Bahrain for the season opener in a fortnight’s time.

“I am confident in the process” Horner said. “I’m working with the process. And I absolutely deny any of the allegations that have been made.”

Horner was speaking at the launch of Red Bull’s 2024 challenger, the RB20, at the team’s factory in Milton Keynes on Thursday.

The day had been intended as one of celebration ahead of Red Bull’s 20th season in the sport, with hundreds of partners and journalists and social media influencers gathered for the multi-million pound function. Instead it was dominated by questions about the ongoing investigation.

Horner spent more than eight hours being grilled by a specialist barrister in London last Friday, with further questioning expected.

However, asked whether he had ever considered pulling out of the launch, or avoiding interviews, Horner insisted he had no reason to do so as he had nothing to hide.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I deny the allegations. For me it is business as normal. I’m confident in [my innocence]. If I wasn’t I wouldn’t be here.

“I’m absolutely committed to this team. I’ve been here since the beginning. I’ve built this team. There have been highs and lows along the way. We have won 113 races, seven drivers’ world championships, six constructors’ world championships, in 19 seasons. And you know, that’s in the history books now.

“But it’s what lies ahead that’s important. So my focus is on the future.”

Horner’s accuser, who like Horner has continued to work at the factory since the investigation was launched, was understood not to be in Milton Keynes on Thursday.

Red Bull team principal also revealed his wife, Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, and children, had been “very supportive” since the allegations were made against him.

“I have a very supportive family and very supportive wife. My focus has been on the job and the season ahead,” Horner explained.

Christian Horner at an event to mark Red Bull's 20th anniversary
Christian Horner (right) was speaking at Red Bull Racing's HQ in Milton Keynes - Getty Images/Mark Thompson

Senior executives from Red Bull Austria were in attendance, including Oliver Mintzlaff, the former chairman of RB Leipzig who is now chief executive of corporate projects for the energy drinks company, with oversight for F1. Helmut Marko, the Austrian company’s longstanding motorsport advisor, was also there.

Horner, who was seen talking to Mintzlaff, said the support he had received had been “overwhelming”.

In fact, he said, he had never seen the team more united.

“I think at moments of uncertainty it brings a team together,” he said. “And I’ve never seen a team more together or more supportive than it is.

“Everybody’s focused on one thing, which is the performance of that car; to go out and defend both the world titles that we’ve worked so hard to achieve over the last couple of years.

“So the car is what everybody is invested in and I look forward to seeing it in action in Bahrain next week.”

“The support within the business, within our partners, within the industry.. has been overwhelming,” drivers. The team. The partners.

“Obviously there’s a process that’s ongoing at the moment. Some allegations have been made, which I fully deny. And I have complied obviously with that process and will continue to do so until it’s concluded.”

Asked when that might be, Horner replied: “It has to run its course. I don’t have a [date]. I don’t know.” It is thought the investigation could yet take weeks, possibly running into the start of the new season.

Horner’s claim that the team was unified was backed up by his drivers. Three-time world champion Max Verstappen said morale was “better than ever” after a season in which they won 22 out of 23 races. And he added that his relationship with Horner was “very good” and had not been affected by the controversy.

“We’ve seen each other quite a few times,” he said. “I’ve been on the simulator. He was also there when we were filming. We’ve achieved a lot of things together so that doesn’t change suddenly.”

Horner finished by saying he had never considered his position and did not envisage leaving any time soon.

“Not at all,” he said. “Absolutely not. I am fully committed to this team. I’ve built this team, I’ve convinced people to come here and work here. I enjoy working with the team. It’s very personal to me because I’ve invested so much personally.”

Not even Horner’s defiant confidence could hide the elephant in the room

There were moments during Red Bull’s ‘20th season’ launch on Thursday when it was difficult not to wince, given what we know is currently going on behind the scenes.

“The establishment wrote us off as a fizzy drinks company,” declared the compère for the day, breezily, as she opened proceedings with a potted summary of the last two decades. “But the bubble’s never burst for Red Bull Racing!” Oof. Don’t speak too soon.

Or how about Max Verstappen, in a video about what makes the team so special? “Everyone trusts each other,” observed the team’s star driver. Not everyone, apparently.

Or perhaps most awkward of all, David Coulthard and Christian Horner discussing Horner’s famous skinny dip in the team swimming pool after the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix, the result of a lost bet. Yes, the story is famous. Yes, it is a good illustration of what made Red Bull so different from the rest of the field when they first entered the sport. The theme of the day was “Forever Rebl” after all. But when the boss is the subject of allegations of inappropriate behaviour from a female co-worker? Possibly not the right time.

Not that Horner has been accused of sexual misconduct. Red Bull’s team principal has been accused of “inappropriate behaviour”, believed to be of a controlling nature; a claim he strongly denies. And the naked swim in the Superman cape has always been seen as a bit of fun. But in the current climate, it might have been better to steer clear. There were certainly a few eyebrows raised in the auditorium when Coulthard joked it was an opportunity to see his old team principal “get his kit off”. Horner then looked a little pained as the compère then asked: “We won’t be seeing any more of that then?”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner trackside in July 2023
Christian Horner was speaking at an event to mark 20 years of Red Bull in Formula One - PA/David Davies

Red Bull’s team principal actually gave a remarkably assured performance under the circumstances. It would have been no surprise if Red Bull had cancelled this launch. Or if Horner had chosen to dash off after the main presentation to avoid giving endless interviews. Not only did he stay, he did not duck any questions.

Of course, Red Bull’s various press officers tried their best to steer the conversation away from the investigation, reminding journalists that Horner was not at liberty to discuss an active inquiry. But it was simply impossible to avoid the elephant in the room. In the 10 or so minutes he spent with national newspapers, not a single question was asked about the RB20.

As he got up at the end, having been probed on his future, on whether he had considered stepping down, on whether he felt his team were behind him, on whether he would be around in 20 days, never mind 20 years, Horner even managed a joke: “What did you think of the cooling duct then?”

Overall, it was a confident performance. And without pre-judging the outcome of the investigation, one from which he has surely emerged stronger.

If Red Bull’s Austrian paymasters were watching to see how he performed, or how the team responded to him on the day, then he passed with flying colours. He looked calm, in charge. Oliver Mintzlaff, Red Bull’s chief executive of corporate projects, who has oversight of F1, was in attendance and could be seen in discussions with Horner at various points. Helmut Marko, with whom Horner was rumoured to be in a ‘power struggle’ last year, was also there and looking sanguine, albeit he was hobbling a bit, the result of a skiing accident apparently.

There was no Jos Verstappen, but his son gave Horner his backing. “Fantastic,” the three-time world champion responded when asked how the spirit was in the camp ahead of the new season. “It’s been honestly better than ever. Everyone is really enjoying their role, everyone is very proud of what they have achieved, and everyone is very much looking forward to the new season.”

Asked about his relationship with Horner specifically, Verstappen added: “Yes, very good. We’ve seen each other quite a few times. I’ve been on the simulator. He was also there when we were filming. We’ve achieved a lot of things together so that doesn’t change suddenly.”

Max Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez in Milton Keynes at Red Bull's car launch
Max Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez in Milton Keynes at Red Bull's car launch - Getty Images/Mark Thompson

Who knows what Verstappen is saying in private, but the impression he gave was very much that he would prefer not to rock the boat. The team has just enjoyed the most successful season in the history of Formula One, with 21 wins in 22 races. Verstappen was responsible for 19 of those. The 26-year-old is expected to dominate again this year, with the team having been able to focus their energies on the RB20 from the midpoint of last season, so healthy was their advantage.

The last thing Verstappen needs right now is instability at the top, which could filter down to the team’s foundations. There has been talk that Ferrari, having snared Lewis Hamilton, are once again eyeing up Adrian Newey, or technical director Pierre Waché. Both those men appeared on stage with Horner during Thursday’s car presentation, along with the likes of chief designer Craig Skinner and trackside engineering director Paul Monaghan. It was a reminder of the stunning strength in depth Red Bull have assembled over the last 20 years. And how much they stand to lose.

Of course, the investigation could make action unavoidable. If the evidence against Horner is overwhelming, Red Bull Austria may have no choice but to get rid.

Horner, at least, gave a credible impression of someone confident he had nothing to worry about. Yes, there were some spectacularly awkward moments. When he spoke about the importance of “team culture” and so on. But he gave no impression he was a man on the edge. “Look, I think it’s very clear, the position of Red Bull has been that it’s business as normal,” he replied when asked whether he might have been expected to step down pending the outcome of the investigation. There is a process that Red Bull are going through. But obviously there’s a job to do [in the meantime] and I deny fully the accusations that have been made. And my role obviously continues.”

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