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Red Bull Racing's team principal Christian Horner walks to a press conference during the second day of the Formula One pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on February 22. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: There was no immediate response from Christian Horner to the news on Wednesday that he had been cleared by Red Bull of inappropriate behaviour towards a female team member but with the announcement will come a massive sense of relief.

The new season, after all, is just days away and Red Bull have world titles to defend.

The accusation at the start of February was a bombshell not just to Horner but to the entire team as they made their final preparations for the 2024 season which gets underway in Bahrain on Saturday.

Horner, who has been team principal since 2005, was subjected to a lengthy interview by an independent London lawyer acting as investigator, who submitted a report to Red Bull.

He carried on working and always denied the allegations made against him, as former Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone told AFP on Wednesday.

“He was always very clear with me there was nothing to be concerned about,” said Ecclestone.

“It’s been tough as it has been hanging over him. People kept putting different stories together to show that he was in trouble.

“I said to Christian at the beginning ‘come out and say you’re sorry’ but he told me: ‘No way, I don’t want to compromise, I have done nothing that I need to say sorry for’.”

Horner has never been one to compromise since turning his back on trying to make it as a racing driver and going into management.

Appointed as the youngest team principal in the Formula One paddock aged 31 in 2005 he has overseen six constructors championships and seven drivers titles — a remarkable achievement by any yardstick.

He has since become a fixture on the grid wall over the last two decades, the tactical mastermind of Max Verstappen’s three straight titles.

Power and sway

Eloquent, bright and combative, his spats with his opposite number at Mercedes Toto Wolff have made for compelling viewing, not least when Verstappen controversially deprived Lewis Hamilton of an unprecedented eighth world crown on the last lap of the last race of the 2021 season in Abu Dhabi.

As team principal and chief executive of Red Bull Racing, Horner has an enormous amount of power and sway over a vast empire based at the team’s Milton Keynes headquarters in England.

During his time at the tiller the company’s workforce has ballooned from 450 to 1,500, with one of that number’s allegations shocking the F1 community.

Wolff described the investigation as “an issue for all of Formula One” while Williams chief James Vowles said “we all have to look each other in the mirror and make sure that we are ... acting in a way that we can only be proud of, not today but in the next 10 years”.

One of the least affected, it seems, was Verstappen who brushed away all talk of the investigation on Wednesday.

“It doesn’t affect me,” said the Dutchman. “I’m very focused on the car and on myself.”

Horner would likely approve of such focus. He has shown plenty of it himself since he first came into contact with the ambitious Austrian company Red Bull and its ‘father’ Dietrich Mateschitz when he was in F3000.

Talented engineer

Mateschitz, who died in 2022, had purchased the Jaguar F1 outfit in 2004 — and saw enough in the young Horner to appoint him as team boss for 2005.

Among the many inspired moves Horner made was to bring on board Adrian Newey, ranked as one of the most talented engineers and designers of his or any other generation.

Newey, who climbed aboard the Red Bull wagon in 2006, produced the cars that won the drivers’ and constructors titles every year from 2010 to 2013, the drivers’ championship in 2021, and both championships in 2022 and 2023.

Newey’s RB19, which ran riot on the track last year, is statistically the most successful car in F1 history, winning 21 out of 22 races.

Despite all the attendant stress of being at the helm of steering such a colossal enterprise through the choppy waters of a multibillion pound industry — Horner retains an air of boyish enthusiasm.

He married Geri Halliwell, Ginger Spice of the former Spice Girls pop band in 2015, and the couple have one son, Montague. Horner also has a daughter from a previous relationship.

A supporter of Coventry City football club, Horner is the longest-serving team principal in the paddock.

During that tenure he has inevitably had to deal with crisis after crisis but none more serious than the one that appears now to have been resolved.