Christian Horner in fight for his F1 future as email 'leak' ramps up pressure

Christian Horner in fight for his F1 future as email 'leak' ramps up pressure

Christian Horner returned to the Formula One paddock this morning with the spotlight firmly back on him, following an extraordinary build-up to tomorrow’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

Having been cleared of any wrongdoing over claims of inappropriate behaviour by a female colleague on Wednesday, yesterday an email was leaked purporting to be messages between Horner and the woman in question.

It seemingly once again threw the future of the 50-year-old, who refused to comment in detail on what he dismissed as “anonymous speculation”, into serious jeopardy, although it is thought Red Bull Austria deems his job as team principal as safe at this stage in the wake of the leak.

Of the latest twist, which has overshadowed the build-up to the season, the Austrian company said: “This is a private matter between Mr Horner and another, and it would be inappropriate for Red Bull to comment on this.”

The leak is being seen as a targeted and personal attack on Horner after he was exonerated from a lengthy investigation in which he was questioned in detail by an external lawyer over the allegations of wrongdoing, which he has denied from the outset.

Christian Horner, in the Bahrain paddock on Friday morning (David Davies/PA Wire)
Christian Horner, in the Bahrain paddock on Friday morning (David Davies/PA Wire)

It is unclear at this stage whether the leaked WhatsApp messages and photographs are even real. They were sent from an anonymous account to some 150 people in total, including media attending the race in Bahrain, Horner’s fellow team principals and those running the sport, including F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali.

Horner was back in the team’s hospitality suite on Friday ahead of this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, in which Max Verstappen is the overwhelming favourite to take victory and launch his quest for a fourth straight world title after taking pole in qualifying.

And he was also meeting with FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem to discuss the issue.

Following the leak, Horner said last night: “I won’t comment on anonymous speculation but, to reiterate, I have always denied the allegations, I respected the integrity of the independent investigation and fully co-operated with it every step of the way.

“It was a thorough and fair investigation conducted by an independent specialist barrister and it has concluded, dismissing the complaint made. I remain fully focused on the start of the season.”

Horner’s accuser could yet choose to appeal the decision made by Red Bull Austria in the coming days.

The ongoing saga for the F1 frontrunners has long been seen as part of a wider power play for control of operations among various factions within Red Bull.

Horner’s rivals have also weighed into the debate, most notably Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and McLaren CEO Zak Brown.

Wolff said: “There is a lady in an organisation who has spoken to HR and said there is an issue and it was investigated and yesterday the sport has received a message, ‘It’s all fine, we’ve looked at it’. As a global sport on such topics, it needs more transparency.

“As a sport, we can’t afford to leave things vague and opaque on critical topics like this. It’s going to catch us out.”

Brown, meanwhile, called on the sport’s governing body, the FIA, to get involved. Red Bull Austria sees it as a private company matter and has no plans to share details outside of the company.

Brown said: “The sanctioning body has a responsibility and authority to our sport and fans. All of us in F1 are ambassadors for the sport on and off the track.

“They need to make sure that things have been fully transparent with them, that they come to the same conclusion that has been given by Red Bull and they agree with the outcome. Until then, there will continue to be speculation, because there are a lot of unanswered questions about the whole process.”