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Formula 1

Horner desperately wants F1 to move on - but it can't

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
7 min read

Christian Horner’s saga turned Formula 1's four-person press conference line-up between Thursday practice sessions at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix into a one-man show.

A little over a week on from a Red Bull investigation finding in Horner's favour following allegations about his conduct towards a female member of staff, the matter is still a dominant talking point in F1 as the fallout has been significant and the scrutiny is irrepressible.

On Thursday, the vast majority of the questions were to Horner, and related to this subject in some way - about the lack of transparency, the impact of all the scrutiny, what’s happened to the member of staff who made the allegation, and the fallout Horner had with Jos Verstappen as a result of all of this.

“It’s time to move on,” would be the main summary from Horner’s responses. But it’s not so simple. Nor was his handling of the 20-minute-or-so onslaught, which started with a clear enough attempt to stay on message but occasionally drifted into an agitated stance and longer answers that perhaps let slip a bit too much.

F1 team bosses' press conference

Horner’s focus was on the “basics”, as he put it: “A grievance was raised, fully investigated and dismissed.” Now, he said, is the time to “draw a line under it” and focus on the racing, the drivers and the cars.

He said that’s “where the spotlight should be” but in reality it is still firmly in one place. And it will stay there until either Red Bull facilitates some more transparency or another twist blows some key details into the open.

While there has been an investigation, taking the outcome on trust alone is proving insufficient for F1’s stakeholders, fans and media. Red Bull did not give a reason why the grievance was dismissed. It has not divulged the identity of the barrister behind the investigation (Horner just described them as “one of the most reputable in the land”) or shared their findings with key parties like F1 or the FIA. And now the complainant has been suspended, which implies she is guilty of some specific wrongdoing, without a public reason why.

Horner just said he could not comment “on anything confidential between the employee and the company”. There is a need for confidentiality in such matters to protect those involved and doubtless Horner will have supporters who question why any of us need to know anything about this. But there must be more that could be disclosed given the damage that this has done, with intense speculation filling the void that such secrecy has left.

Horner made it clear, when asked by The Race’s Edd Straw if there was a plan to be more transparent somewhere down the line and why that is so important, that we shouldn’t expect much if anything else to be disclosed.

Christian Horner, Red Bull, F1

“It’s a complicated issue because each company will be exactly the same: there is a grievance process that takes place and that process is confidential between the individuals and the company itself,” Horner said.

“I’m not at liberty due to that confidentiality and out of respect to the company and the other party, we’re all bound by the same restrictions.

“Even if I would like to talk about it, I can’t, because of those confidentiality restrictions. There’s a reason for that.

“The only reason this has gained so much attention is because of the leakage and attention drawn in the media. Which has been very trying in many respects, and particularly for my family, because it’s all been focused in one direction.

“And what’s happened after, others have looked to take advantage. F1 is a competitive business, there’s been elements that have looked to benefit from it. That’s the not-so-pretty side of our industry.

“There are always lessons but there’s a process that’s governed within the company that it’s not an FIA issue, not an F1 issue, it’s a company-and-employee issue.

“That would be the same in any organisation.”

What’s interesting about this lengthy answer is that not only does Horner skirt around the issue of transparency - which ironically is denying him the closure to this saga that he wants - he also publicly positioned himself for the first time as having suffered through this “very trying period”.

Previously he was riding this out as business as normal - now he is invoking his family, his wife and his children, and suggesting rivals in F1 are trying to take advantage.

Geri Horner and Christian Horner, F1

When asked about the damage done to his reputation, and if he felt sympathy for the impact this could have on his accuser, too, he focused on the former - with an emphasis on his home life.

He said “I’m the only one that has been named in this” (formally at least, given the accuser has unfortunately been identified elsewhere) and that “when there’s children involved, families, parents, it’s not pretty”.

This also led Horner to emphasise, once again, the process Red Bull undertook and why he believes that should be the end of the matter.

“The reality is that there was a grievance that was raised, it was dealt with in the most professional manner by the group, that appointed an independent KC [a senior King's Counsel lawyer] that is one of the most reputable in the land,” Horner said.

“He took time to investigate fully all the facts, he interviewed all the people involved including others with interest, he looked at all the facts and came to a conclusion and dismissed the grievance.

“As far as I and Red Bull are concerned, we move on and look to the future.

“My wife has been phenomenally supportive throughout this, as has my family.

Geri Horner and Christian Horner, F1

“The intrusion on my family is now enough. And we need to move forward and focus on what we’re here for.

“I’m sorry for these three gentlemen [alongside him in the press conference] we’re not here talking about their cars and drivers today.

“We need to focus on why we’re here, to go F1 racing.”

One other detail that Horner did linger on a couple of times is the “awful lot of leakage around this in what is a private and confidential matter between employees and the company”, indicating that the investigation should not have been public knowledge in the first place - let alone all that has followed, including the sharing of alleged evidence.

“It’s unfortunately, through that leakage, garnered an awful lot of coverage,” said Horner.

Christian Horner, Red Bull, F1

“It’s now time to focus on the track and what we’re here to do, which is to go racing.”

The one obvious question from that is why those leaks happened and, to paraphrase one question Horner faced, if there is a campaign against him. Horner did not bite on that question and just insisted that Red Bull is united as a team.

But an argument with Max Verstappen’s father Jos last week would refute that, given it preceded Jos publicly declaring that Red Bull would be torn apart under Horner’s leadership, and it has become clear there are divisions within the organisation on some level.

Horner said he was aware of Jos’s remarks and suggested that “it’s in everybody’s interest collectively that we’ve agreed to move on and focus on the future”. He is believed to have met with Max’s manager Raymond Vermeulen (pictured below with Max and Jos) in Dubai after the Bahrain race, though not with Jos directly. But it was an indication that there has been an effort to clear the air, although Horner did not want to go that far when asked that directly.

Raymond Vermeulen, Max Verstappen and Jos Verstappen, F1

He did admit in another answer that he and Jos each have a vested interest in Max, and creating the best environment for him. Horner also said he is confident Verstappen will see out his contract until 2028 after speculation that a rift with his father could bring a premature end to his time with the team.

Horner wouldn’t be drawn on whether Jos is too involved. “Obviously Max’s father has played a key role in his career and getting him to Formula 1,” he acknowledged, and that’s about it.

Much like the main subject, Horner wanted to move on. But it seems impossible that will happen without something else flaring up first.

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