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Wild rumours, WhatsApp messages and team turmoil: The Christian Horner case that rocked Red Bull

Christian Horner and Geri Halliwell
Christian Horner is married to former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell (right) - FilmMagic/Arnold Jerocki

When Christian Horner’s jet set off for Bahrain on Wednesday, it was still unclear whether he would arrive to find he had lost his job and might have to take off again. But by the time it landed, the besieged Red Bull team principal would have known he could breathe more easily again.

The statement from Red Bull GmBH that dropped at 3.30pm UK time, almost the exact time Horner’s plane landed, clearing Horner of inappropriate behaviour after allegations made by a female colleague, ended four weeks of escalating drama in Formula One. And that is saying something given the month began with news of Lewis Hamilton’s bombshell defection from Mercedes to Ferrari for 2025.

In actual fact, the investigation into Horner had been going on for eight weeks. Telegraph Sport understands Red Bull’s team principal has had this hanging over him since the start of January, when the allegations were first made.

But it was only when De Telegraaf in Holland, and a little-known website, F1-Insider.com, went public with the news on February 5 that Horner was being investigated by Red Bull’s parent company that things went really crazy.

This was a news story that ticked a lot of boxes in terms of public interest: Horner was not only big news in F1, he was big news generally. His marriage to former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, his Netflix-fuelled celebrity, the couple’s gilded life in the Cotswolds and north London, with their racehorses and celebrity friends.

The Horners, Christian and Geri, enjoy the country life
The Horners (centre) enjoy the country life - Capital Pictures

Horner immediately denied the allegations – he even interrupted a F1 Commission meeting in London on February 5 to tell his fellow team principals that he was innocent. But it was hard to know exactly what he was denying.

Red Bull GmBH did not specify what the allegations were in its initial statement confirming the investigation. The charges were characterised internally as “controlling” possibly “coercive” behaviour. Behind the scenes there were all sorts of wild rumours flying around; WhatsApp messages and pictures.

What was immediately clear was that there was a lot happening politically. The death of Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz in October 2022 had deprived Horner of a key ally on the Austrian side, a man whose word was final and to whom the entire company looked.

Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz
Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz (pictured) was a key ally of Horner - Reuters/Lisi Niesner

Now, with a new board in place, a new chief executive in Oliver Mintzlaff who is responsible for Formula One, there was a different feel to the company. A “vacuum” as Martin Brundle called it on Sky Sports F1.

You can understand why they might want more control over the UK operation. Horner is not only team principal of Red Bull but chief executive of Red Bull Racing (probably worth north of £1 billion), Red Bull Powertrains and Red Bull Advanced Technologies, responsible for some 1,500 employees in total.

Rumours of a split began to spread

Rumours that Mark Mateschitz, son of Dietrich, who owns 49 per cent of the energy drink company, was in favour of getting rid of Horner, while Chalerm Yoovidhya, eldest son of Chaleo Yoovidhya, co-creator of Red Bull, was in favour of keeping him, quickly began to spread.

As with the original leaking of the investigation, the provenance of some of the stories seemed more than coincidental.

Could he have fallen out with Helmut Marko, the Red Bull motorsport advisor, and Jos Verstappen, the feisty father of three-time world champion Max? Were they out to get him? Why would they be when the team were doing so well on track?

Helmut Marko standing alongside Max Verstappen in tribute to the late Dietrich Mateschitz
Helmut Marko (right) stands alongside Max Verstappen (centre) in tribute to the late Dietrich Mateschitz - Getty Images/Dan Istitene

Valid questions all. But there is no doubt that things got very tense towards the end of last season, coincidentally the period from which the claimant’s allegations of controlling behaviour are understood to stem.

The claimant is understood to have had a close relationship with Verstappen Snr. The pair were seen together after the 2021 title victory in Abu Dhabi.

It was clearly a messy situation that the independent barrister, appointed by Red Bull to look into the allegations, was trying to unpick.

Horner was grilled by the anonymous KC in question in London for eight hours on February 9. And initially the sounds coming out were that Horner might be exonerated fairly swiftly. He certainly seemed confident at the car launch in Milton Keynes on February 15. Maybe too confident. The next day a report emerged in the Netherlands which blew everything up in the air again.

Christian Horner at the unveiling of Red Bull's new car, the RB20
Horner (right) at the unveiling of Red Bull's new car, the RB20 - AFP/Mark Thompson

The publication of that story definitely affected things. Red Bull were nervous of further speculation. Formula One and the FIA were anxious to get things done before the season started. Pressure started to be applied. Not least by Horner’s rival team principals.

Mercedes’ Toto Wolff and McLaren’s Zak Brown both spoke of the need for “transparency” over the investigation, with Wolff saying F1’s senior figures were “role models” and needed to act with the utmost integrity.

Eager to put on a united front, on Wednesday Horner even stopped off in Austria en route to Bahrain to collect Marko, despite ongoing concerns surrounding an intra-team power struggle.

Behind the scenes at Milton Keynes, Horner still had widespread support. There were even suggestions some of them might leave in solidarity if Horner went. That has not happened yet. But this is Formula One. It would be a surprise if we have heard the last of this.

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