Horse power! Red Bull chief Horner on how he switches off from the high-pressure environment of F1
Christian Horner was once the youngest team principal among the established big names of Formula 1 leadership: Ecclestone, Briatore, Dennis, Todt. That was 19 seasons ago when Red Bull started, but now, at 49 years old, he is the longest serving boss in the game.
What keeps him going?
“Motivation,” he declares at 9 a.m. in Bahrain, the venue for the opening race of the 2023 season on Sunday. “I never struggled for motivation. I am a competitive person. What we’ve achieved in recent years is fantastic and now it’s about keeping it that way.’
To this end, Horner gets up at 6:45 a.m. every day, takes a short run from his north London home across Hampstead Heath, and occasionally bumps into Noel Gallagher.
He tries to ensure that he takes the children to school one day a week. “Formula 1 can take over your life if you’re not careful,” he says. ‘It’s about balance. I am in the office from 9am to 6:30pm. I have an hour commute to work, so there I am on the phone on both sides.”
Red Bull boss Christian Horner is the longest-serving team boss in Formula 1
Max Verstappen has won two consecutive titles and Red Bull looks like the team to beat this year
There is a buzz about Red Bull. There were construction years, glory years, reconstruction years and now glory years again. After a break following Sebastian Vettel’s four titles between 2010 and 2013, Max Verstappen has won two consecutive titles and they look likely to remain the team to beat this year. Their form in pre-season testing was ominous.
To reinforce the feel-good factor, they have added Ford as partners from 2026 and are developing their own engines in Milton Keynes, under the name Red Bull Powertrains.
“Having a start-up and hiring the best manufacturers in the world is no small feat, so I have plenty to motivate me,” says Horner.
Part of what could be described as the work-life balance that keeps his enthusiasm alive is his country home in Oxfordshire, where he and his wife Geri, of Spice Girls fame, spend weekends, school holidays and the summer with their family and a family. growing team of horses.
‘I can switch off there’, he looks back. He takes out his phone and shows me live camera footage from the stables.
“He’s awake — he’s ready for action,” Horner says, noticing an early riser among the seven horses. “We train them at home instead of sending them away. It’s fun for the kids – they can help muck it up.
Horner and wife Geri have a growing team of horses at their Oxfordshire country home
“It’s just a bit of fun, but it’s competition again. The best is Lift Me Up, named after one of Geri’s songs. It’s better than Stop Now. Scream If You Want To Go Faster is already registered.
‘Stop Right Now has won its last three races and qualified for Cheltenham (in May) – not the big festival – but if he has another two good 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 few Westies – Bernie and Flavio – have sadly passed away. Speaking of Bernie, Ecclestone played the animal lover as Horner kept 200 lambs in a barn on the estate next door.
“He asked me what was going on. I said they were going 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 £60 200 times to save them.’
Verstappen was a guest at Geri’s 50th birthday party last year – an event postponed by the Queen’s death – although someone less seduced by celebrity stardust than the Dutchman would be hard to find. Engines, rather than diamonds, are the lifeblood of the double and defending world champion. What, I wonder, makes him a special talent?
“If you look at his first lap of the test, Max is two and a half seconds faster than any other driver,” surprised Horner, who turned down a monster offer to drive Ferrari last year.
“His ability to come in and get on with it, I’ve never seen anything like it. There is no edification or facilitation.”
Verstappen gave himself a rest with family and friends over the winter, and photos of him and girlfriend Kelly Piquet together on the beach revealed a body less toned than the fat-free one in the paddock today.
“He lives for a little freedom in the winter because he knows he has to feed chicken and lettuce for 11 months,” argues Horner. ‘He’s a young fellow and you have to give him that space. He’s in excellent shape. He’s down to his weight and he did 160 laps on the first day of testing and he looked fresh after that. It is quite straightforward in many ways. It just drives the wheels off and comes out of the car quite softly.”
Everything seems rosy at Red Bull. Even the mention of his regular sparring partner Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss who is chalk on his cheese, is swept off the table. The Austrian claimed in a recent interview that he lives rent-free in Horner’s head. A consideration? “I don’t feel like it,” he says.
“It’s a new season. I focus on what I’m doing. Competition is part of sport. I sleep well at night.’