What we know about the Christian Horner controversy

Christian Horner's accuser has reportedly been suspended by Red Bull Racing in the latest twist around the scandal engulfing Formula 1.

Christian Horner ahead of the Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain on March 2, 2024. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Christian Horner has said he will weather the storm following an investigation into his behaviour and subsequent fallout. (Getty Images)

Christian Horner has said the intrusion into his wife and children's lives has to stop after it emerged the woman who accused him of "inappropriate behaviour” has been suspended following Red Bull’s investigation into their Formula One team principal.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Horner said: “I am fortunate I have a beautiful family and a very supportive wife. It has been very trying, and very challenging. My wife has been hugely supportive, as has my family, but the intrusion on my family is now enough, and we need to move forward and focus on what we are here for."

Horner's wife, former Spice Girl Geri Horner, made a public show of support for her husband at the Bahrain Grand Prix last week.

Horner, 50, was allowed to remain in his role after Red Bull Racing’s parent company GmbH said last Wednesday that the grievance against him had been dismissed. A number of Whatsapp photos and messages purportedly between Horner and his accuser were subsequently leaked.

On Thursday, it was widely reported that the complainant, an employee of the Milton Keynes team, has now been suspended on full pay. A Red Bull Racing spokesperson said: “We are unable to comment as it is an internal matter.” Horner has consistently denied the allegations and said he was unable to comment on her apparent suspension because it was a private matter between Red Bull and the individuals involved.

Asked if he wanted to express sympathy for the woman involved and her reputation, Horner responded by saying that he was the only one who had been named in the process.

Here, Yahoo News explains what we know and what we don't know about the controversy that has rocked the F1 world.

What we know

The controversy erupted on 5 February, when parent company Red Bull GmbH confirmed Horner was under investigation for alleged "inappropriate behaviour".

Horner stood his ground, denying the allegations and telling reporters at an event on 15 February: "I'm going through a process and fully respect it. For me, it is business as normal and I'm focused on the season ahead."

On 20 February, as questions started to be asked over the length of the investigation, Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko said he thought the team had "reacted very well", adding that the "long duration of this investigation is not their fault". However, Toto Wolff, head of the Mercedes F1 team and a long-standing rival of Horner's, called for greater "transparency".

SAKHIR, BAHRAIN: Christian Horner and Geri Halliwell, at the 2024 Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain.
Christian Horner and his wife Geri Halliwell appeared close at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir. (Alamy)

Criticism continued to mount, with Ford, which is due to partner with Red Bull in 2026, claiming it was becoming "increasingly frustrated by the lack of resolution" and a lack of details being shared with the car giant.

On 28 February, Red Bull GmbH said the investigation was complete and the "grievance has been dismissed". The Austrian multi-national said it was "confident" the investigation "has been fair, rigorous and impartial", adding that the complainant has a right of appeal.

Speaking at the opening of the Bahrain Grand Prix the following day, Horner said he was "pleased" the investigation was over and said unity within the team has "never been stronger", but then the saga took an unexpected turn.

Just 24 hours after he was cleared, a number of photos and WhatsApp messages – purportedly to show conversations between Horner and his accuser, were allegedly leaked. The bundle was reportedly sent in a Google drive from an anonymous email account to 149 members of the F1 paddock – including FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem, F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali and the grid’s nine other team principals, as well as members of the media.

Horner and his wife, former Spice Girl Geri Horner, put on a united front as they walked hand-in-hand before a race in Bahrain. Asked about the alleged leak, Horner told reporters: “I am not going to comment on anonymous speculative messages from an unknown source. I am not going to comment on what motives whatever person may have for doing this."

Christian and Geri Horner after Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen won the Bahrain Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir. Picture date: Saturday March 2, 2024.
Horner has described the controversy as 'very testing' for him and his family. (Alamy)

On 4 March it emerged that Horner had threatened legal action against a Formula 1 magazine that has published allegations against him and named the female employee at Red Bull.

Lawyers for Horner sent two letters to the magazine after it published a lengthy article about the case, according to The Telegraph. The newspaper said his legal team at Harbottle & Lewis called the article "unlawful" and demanded that it be removed.

On 4 March, Horner had a face-to-face meeting in Dubai with the manager of Red Bull's star driver Max Verstappen in an effort to iron out tensions amid the team. The summit was held 48 hours after Verstappen’s father, Jos, said Red Bull would “explode” if Horner remained in his role as team principal.

In a press conference on 7 March, Horner confirmed he had spoken with Verstappen Snr and that they "agreed to move on and focus on the future".

Verstappen Snr had previously told the Daily Mail: “There is tension here while he (Horner) remains in position. The team is in danger of being torn apart. It can’t go on the way it is. It will explode. He is playing the victim, when he is the one causing the problems.”

Horner also used the press conference to complain that there had been an "awful lot of leakage" around the matter, suggesting others in the sport had looked to take advantage of the controversy engulfing Red Bull: “The only reason this has gained so much attention is because of the leakage… in the media, which has been very trying in many respects particularly for my family, because it’s all been focused very much in one direction.

"And of course what has happened then after that is others have tried to take advantage of it… and unfortunately Formula One is a competitive business and there’s been elements that have looked to benefit from it and that’s perhaps the no-so pretty side of our industry.”

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 2: Jos Verstappen of the Netherlands and father of Max Verstappen during the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 2, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Qian Jun/MB Media/Getty Images)
Jos Verstappen, pictured, has warned Red Bull could be 'torn apart' if Horner doesn't leave his post as team principal. (Getty Images)

What we don't know

We don't know the nature of the allegations against Horner, nor how long his alleged inappropriate behaviour was going on.

Nor do we know the exact details of Red Bull's investigation as it contained private information of the two parties and others who assisted in the probe, the company said it would not be commenting further.

This has fuelled calls from some within the F1 world for greater transparency, including Mercedes boss Wolff, who told a press conference: "My personal opinion is we can't really look behind the curtain. At the end of the day, there is a lady in an organisation who has spoken to HR and said there is an issue.

"It was investigated and yesterday the sport received a message, 'it's all fine. We've looked at it. And I believe that with the aspirations as a global sport, on such critical topics, it needs more transparency and I wonder what the sport's position is... we as a sport need to assess what is right in that situation and what is wrong."

It is understood that neither Formula One's owners, Liberty Media, nor the sport's regulator, the FIA, has seen the eight-week probe's findings. It is also not known who the independent barrister commissioned to carry out the investigation was.

As for the WhatsApp messages and pictures, some of which are circulating on social media, we have no idea whether they are authentic, who is alleged to have leaked them and what their motivation could have been. It also isn't clear how many of these messages, if any, formed a part of the investigation into Horner's behaviour and how Red Bull and F1 intend to respond to the alleged leak, or whether it could result in another probe.

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