'I have sympathy for Binotto': Christian Horner argues for F1 team boss stability
Christian Horner is starting his 19th season in charge of Red Bull. The longest-serving F1 team principal tells Chris Medland about his "remarkable journey" since taking over and gives his verdict on the latest team boss changes
Alfa Romeo and Williams, which also lost their leaders, have been through tougher times, but both are still highly-coveted posts. Because they’re all scarce — only ten teams need an overall leader in Formula 1 — opportunities have historically rarely came up.
That’s changed in more recent years, with iconic names such as Ron Dennis and Sir Frank Williams no longer the people leading the teams they helped create.
F1 team principals often used to be former racers who owned their squad, but the model is rapidly changing in favour of staff with engineering or management qualifications, writes Adam Cooper
Now, a 49-year-old is the longest-serving team principal on the grid, and by some distance. It didn’t take the winter reshuffling to alter this statistic, but it did put it into sharper focus.
Christian Horner will get to celebrate his 50th birthday during the Las Vegas Grand Prix weekend as the leader of the defending championship-winning team, a notion that was ridiculously far-fetched when he was handed the role of team principal at Red Bull in 2005.
“It’s been a remarkable journey,” Horner says. “When I look back, I look a lot younger in 2005 and the team’s changed considerably. So I guess we both changed a lot in those last 18 years. So this is gonna be my 19th season running the team and it’s just evolved so much during that period.
“The people that we have — many faces are still here from the beginning, but of course we’ve welcomed an awful lot more — and the facilities have changed dramatically. And of course, with Red Bull Powertrains coming on stream, the development we have there, wind tunnel coming on-site as well, it’s a period of rapid expansion on the campus. But bringing all that technology, essentially under one roof on one campus.”
For someone accused of getting too much airtime on television broadcasts, Horner rarely speaks about himself. It’s the team he wants to focus on, and that’s because it’s the team’s evolution and expansion that has always provided him with new challenges to get stuck into in his current role.
“The team is always evolving and any competitive team always will evolve. But I’ve enjoyed great support from the shareholders, from Dietrich [Mateschitz] obviously who was fantastic for all those years – and the current shareholders have continued under his mantra. So, that’s been crucial.
“And just having a great group of people around you. Formula 1 is the biggest team sport in the world, and you’ve got to have all bits of that functioning correctly and effectively and efficiently to hit the kind of results that we have over the years. And at the end of the day, it’s a people business.”
Mattia Binotto has carried the can for Ferrari's 2022 failings by resigning as F1 team principal. But a new boss won't solve the team's fundamental problem which has dogged it for more than a decade, says Mark Hughes in our season review podcast
Red Bull’s rarely been a team to shy away from making changes when required, specifically when it comes to its driver line-up and junior program. But at the very top, the likes of Horner, Adrian Newey, Helmut Marko and Jonathan Wheatley are constants. It’s the latter approach to the team structure that Horner believes has allowed the team to get back to winning ways, but also aided his own position.
“I think we’ve always valued continuity, and I think continuity has an enormous benefit, because it removes a culture of fear. And I think that stability is one of our key assets that we’ve enjoyed – I’ve always been a great believer in that. And you build on that stability, and you empower people to do their jobs.
“And of course, we’ve achieved quite a bit of success during those last 18 seasons. So my motivation is just as high as the first day I walked in here, and I’m excited about what’s ahead for this year, but also, with what’s in the pipeline for 2026 and beyond.”
His rivalry with Toto Wolff now stretches back a decade, but aside from that Horner will have a number of different faces sat across the table when F1’s bosses convene to thrash out future directions or issues. One of those is a familiar face in the paddock after James Vowles was given the Williams team principal job, but Horner is not concerned about any potential knock-on benefit to Mercedes.
“We’ve got a start up engine company taking on Ferrari, Mercedes, Alpine, VW Group”
“I don’t know James particularly well, but he’s obviously a very capable guy,” Horner says. “Williams will have done their due diligence and research and I think it’s great that they’re giving him the chance to make that step up. So I think that can only be good news for Williams.
“And is there anything attached to that? Williams would have obviously done what’s right for them and right for their business. But only they will know what has been agreed for that early release to have happened.”
Vowles is one of many new team bosses that have been installed over the off-season, with the highest-profile change coming at Ferrari, where the arrival of Fred Vasseur in place of Mattia Binotto also caught Horner’s eye.
“It has been interesting to watch the movement. I’ve sympathy for Mattia, because ultimately he’d done a good job. Last year, that was a big step forward from where they had been, so that must be tough for him after such long service that he had given to Ferrari.
“Fred, it’ll be interesting to see if he’s still arguing about the same points that he was for Sauber in upcoming meetings! But again, he’s a very capable guy. So yeah, it’ll be very interesting. I’m sure they’re all very capable people. So we’ll get to see what the dynamics are at the next Formula 1 Commission meeting.”
Evolving dynamics are something Horner has been getting used to as a result of nearly two-decades in his role, and given the young age he’s gained his vast experience you might expect there to be a future move in mind. But with Red Bull continuing to add to its portfolio in Milton Keynes, and attracting major names to be a part of it, he insists he’s still full of motivation right where he is.
“I think [what’s next is] to keep delivering, to keep developing the team and the business here. And I think the next massive challenge for us is the powertrains. I mean, we’ve got a start up engine company taking on Ferrari, Mercedes, Alpine, VW Group… And so that is a massive challenge.
“We’ve got 150 weeks left before we have an engine driving out of a pitlane for the first time in the back of a Red Bull car. So that focuses the mind, it’s a big challenge. It’s a ballsy undertaking, to think that an independent team can take on those type of manufacturers.
“But again, it comes down to the same culture, the same approach that we’ve had to going racing on the chassis side, and ultimately having everything under one roof and the benefits that brings long-term is significant. So that’s taking quite a bit of my time and attention just to make sure that we’re hitting our targets in that area.”
Given all that’s gone before, you’d back Horner and Red Bull to eventually make a success of its powertrain venture. But whatever happens, the longevity of the pairing and progress made is something that all of those teams making changes this winter will ultimately aspire to.