This calendar year has already provided a pair of shocking exits in Formula 1, one planned and the other unplanned. First, Guenther Steiner was out as the Team Principal at Haas, the only team boss in their history sacked ahead of the 2024 season. Then came the stunning announcement that Lewis Hamilton would leave Mercedes after the 2024 campaign, to join Ferrari for the 2025 season.
Could another shocking exit be in the works ahead of the 2024 season?
Reports surfaced on Monday that Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner was facing an internal investigation for “inappropriate behavior.” Dutch outlet De Telegraaf was the first to report on the investigation, stating that a Red Bull employee made serious allegations about the team principal to the team’s parent company, Red Bull GmbH.
As for what the investigation itself, reporting is varied. A separate report in The Times states the complaint came from a female colleague and concerns “inappropriate, controlling behaviour” while the Associated Press claims the complaint is allegedly about Horner’s aggressive management style. Motorsport-Total reported that there is a “dossier with incriminating material at Red Bull in Fuschl that summarizes the allegations,” and that “Horner is said to have been friendly advised to voluntarily resign as team boss and vacate his post.”
Red Bull released a brief statement on Monday, confirming the investigation:
“After being made aware of certain recent allegations, the company launched an independent investigation. This process, which is already underway, is being carried out by an external specialist barrister. The company takes these matters extremely seriously and the investigation will be completed as soon as practically possible. It would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”
On Tuesday German outlet Auto Motor und Sport reported that the involved parties are set to be questioned on Friday, and that “[i]f the external investigators come to the conclusion that the compliance allegations make continued employment impossible, Red Bull will have to look for a new team boss at short notice.”
The investigation comes just days before Red Bull is set to launch the RB20, their challenger for the 2024 season and the successor to the RB19, one of the most dominant cars in F1 history. The RB19 powered Max Verstappen to his third-straight Drivers’ Championship, as he won 19 of 22 grands prix a season ago. Teammate Sergio Pérez finished second in the Drivers’ Championship, helping the team to its second-straight Constructors’ title.
Whether Horner is around to see Red Bull chase a third-straight title seems in doubt. As noted in all of the reports, Horner is presumed innocent in the investigation, and the Team Principal has denied any wrongdoing.
The investigation also comes on the heels of a season where there were numerous reports of an internal power struggle at Red Bull involving Horner and senior advisor Dr. Helmut Marko. Marko declined comment when asked about the investigation into Horner on Monday.
As for who could potentially replace Horner at Red Bull, the team does have options, both internal and external. Jonathan Wheatley, the team’s Sporting Director, is one internal option. Wheatley was one of the team’s first appointments back in 2006, and has built a pit crew operation that is largely regarded as one of the best in the sport. Pierre Waché, the team’s Technical Director, is another internal option, but it might make more sense if between the two, Waché was kept in his current role to oversee technical developments while Wheatley was given the promotion.
Regarding potential external options, recently sacked team principals include Mattia Binotto, who departed Ferrari after the 2022 season, Otmar Szafnauer, who was dismissed at Alpine last year, and the recently-sacked Steiner. However, those would be considered long shots at best given the internal options available to Red Bull, and the timing, given we are just days from the team breaking cover on the RB20.
Then there is the matter of Adrian Newey, the team’s Chief Technical Officer. Newey is credited with much of Red Bull’s success, and has been hailed as perhaps the greatest car designer in F1 history. In fact, he’s literally written the book on it.
Longtime F1 journalist Joe Saward reported early Tuesday morning that a much-rumored contract clause that would allow Newey to leave Red Bull if Horner left — and vice versa — could come to fruition if Horner were dismissed:
It has long been believed that Christian Horner and Adrian Newey have contracts that protect one another. If one leaves the other can as well. This has never been confirmed – but it makes for an interesting dynamic if something was to happen to Horner… @JSBMnewsletter
— Joe Saward (@joesaward) February 6, 2024
All of this makes for a fascinating week ahead at Red Bull.