Horse power! Red Bull chief Horner on how he switches off from F1
Horse power: Long-serving Red Bull chief CHRISTIAN HORNER on how he switches off from the high-pressure F1 environment, helped by Spice Girl wife Geri and a coterie of nags, dogs and donkeys!
- Once the youngest team principal, the 49-year-old is now the longest serving
- Horner is keen to keep a work-life balance with his wife, children and animals
- Bahrain will host the opening grand prix of the 2023 season on Sunday
Christian Horner was once the youngest team principal among the established big names of Formula One leadership — Ecclestone, Briatore, Dennis, Todt. That was 19 seasons ago when Red Bull started up but now, aged 49, he is the longest-serving boss in the game.
What keeps him going?
‘Motivation,’ he declares, at 9am in Bahrain, the venue for Sunday’s opening grand prix of the 2023 season. ‘I’ve never struggled for motivation. I’m a competitive person. What we have achieved the last couple of years is fantastic and now it’s about keeping that going.’
To this end, Horner rises each day at 6.45am, goes for a quick run from his house in north London across Hampstead Heath, occasionally bumping into Noel Gallagher.
He tries to ensure that one day a week he takes the kids to school. ‘Formula One can consume your life if you are not careful,’ he says. ‘It’s about balance. I’m in the office from 9am until 6.30pm. I have an hour’s commute, so I’m on the phone either side of that.’
Red Bull boss Christian Horner is the longest-serving team principal in Formula One
Max Verstappen has won two successive titles and Red Bull look like the team to beat this year
There is a buzz about Red Bull. There have been building years, glory years, rebuilding years and now glory years again. After a lull that followed Sebastian Vettel’s four titles between 2010 and 2013, Max Verstappen has won two successive titles, and they look likely to remain the team to beat this year. Their form in pre-season testing was ominous.
Reinforcing the feel-good factor, they have added Ford as partners from 2026 and are developing their own engines in Milton Keynes, under the moniker Red Bull Powertrains.
‘Having a start-up and taking up the best manufacturers in the world is no mean feat so I have plenty to motivate me,’ says Horner.
Part of what might be described as the work-life balance that keeps his enthusiasm fresh is his country house in Oxfordshire, where he and his wife Geri, of Spice Girls fame, spend weekends, school holidays and the summer, with their family and a growing team of horses.
‘That’s where I am able to switch off,’ he reflects. He reaches for his phone and shows me live CCTV pictures from inside the stables.
‘He’s awake — he’s ready for action,’ says Horner, spotting an early riser among the seven horses. ‘We train them at home rather than send them away. It’s nice for the kids — they can help with the mucking out.
Horner and wife Geri have a growing team of horses at their country house in Oxfordshire
‘It’s just a bit of fun but again it’s competition. The best is Lift Me Up, named after one of Geri’s songs. It’s better than Stop Right Now. Scream If You Want To Go Faster is already registered.
‘Stop Right Now has won his last three races and has qualified for Cheltenham (in May) — not the big Festival — but if he has two more decent results he will qualify for the Hunter Chase (at the Festival) next year.’
The Horners also have three dogs, a cat, chickens, four goats and four miniature donkeys. A couple of Westies — Bernie and Flavio — have sadly died. Speaking of Bernie, Ecclestone played the animal lover when Horner kept 200 lambs in a shed belonging to the estate next door.
‘He asked me what was happening. I said they were going off to Waitrose. He didn’t like that. He asked me what a farmer would get for each lamb, I said £50 to £60. He paid 200 times £60 to save them.’
Verstappen was a guest at Geri’s 50th birthday bash last year — an event delayed by the Queen’s death — though someone less seduced by celebrity stardust than the Dutchman would be difficult to find. Engines, rather than diamonds, are the double and defending world champion’s lifeblood. What, I wonder, makes him a special talent?
‘If you look at his first out lap of the test, Max comes in two-and-a-half seconds quicker than any other driver,’ marvels Horner, who last year turned down a monster offer to run Ferrari.
‘His ability to get in and get on with it, I’ve never seen anything like it. There is no build-up or easing your way in.’
Verstappen allowed himself downtime over the winter with family and friends, and pictures of him and girlfriend Kelly Piquet together on the beach revealed a body less trim than the fat-free specimen in the paddock today.
‘He lives for a bit of freedom in the winter because he knows he has to give 11 months of chicken and lettuce,’ reasons Horner. ‘He’s a young guy and you need to give him that space. He’s in great shape. He’s on his weight, and he knocked out 160 laps on day one of testing and he looked fresh afterwards. He’s quite straightforward in many ways. He just drives the wheels off it, and is pretty mellow out of the car.’
All, it seems, is rosy at Red Bull. Even mention of his regular sparring partner Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss who is chalk to his cheese, is brushed off. The Austrian claimed in a recent interview that he lives rent free in Horner’s head. A riposte? ‘I don’t take any interest in that,’ he says.
‘It’s a new season. I’m concentrating on what I’m doing. Competition is part of sport. I sleep well at night.’
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