What next for Red Bull F1 after Horner investigation all-clear

While the cost cap affair in 2022 was a tough period for the squad, it did not bring with it the personal turmoil and invasion that has been commonplace over the last few weeks.

The launching of an investigation into unspecified allegations made against him by a female employee thrust Horner into the centre of a media frenzy as he battled to save his career and his future in grand prix racing.

While Horner remained in his role – attending the RB20 launch earlier this month and being on the pitwall during pre-season testing last week – it was clear from his body language that matters had taken an emotional toll on him.

Far from being the ultra-confident character who often bounces around the paddock, Horner looked tired and drained as he found himself subject to an investigation that had begun more than one month ago.

While Red Bull’s statement that came on Wednesday night will allow Horner to sleep easier as focus shifts to winning the F1 season opener in Bahrain, the questions that remain over what has taken place in recent weeks are plenty.

The rumour mill has run wild with speculation over what exactly Horner was alleged to have done. There were multiple different versions being told by paddock figures – with many of the stories contradicting each other.

Sources have strongly dismissed some of the more extreme suggestions that appeared in many publications – and lawyers may yet have a field day about some of the reporting that took place now that Horner has been cleared.

Due to restrictions involving such an internal investigation, there remains little clarity over what was and wasn’t involved – and the truth may never come out.

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing at the Press Conference

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing at the Press Conference

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

As the Red Bull statement said on Wednesday: “The investigation report is confidential and contains the private information of the parties and third parties who assisted in the investigation, and therefore we will not be commenting further out of respect for all concerned. Red Bull will continue striving to meet the highest workplace standards.”

Whether or not Horner will offer more details remains to be seen, for he is unlikely to say much about the situation after he walks into the Bahrain paddock on Thursday.

It is understood that Red Bull’s parent company remains eager for focus to switch to track matters and not any ongoing fallout from recent events.

But what has perhaps been most intriguing of all is how much the situation has revealed the hand of those wishing to use the situation to oust Horner.

The behaviour of other teams in probing Red Bull in recent weeks had been widely viewed as normal behaviour in the dog-eat-dog world of F1.

As Max Verstappen said: “That is a constant tactic in F1, one that is always used. That does not only apply to this story, but that is always the case and is typical for F1. That is one hundred percent typical F1.”

There also remains a lot of intrigue about what role the various elements of the Red Bull global operation did and didn’t play in the matter – from the Thai majority owners, the Austrian parent company, Helmut Marko and the Verstappens.

Were there internal disagreements about the direction things should take? Were some trying to force the matter and get a change at the very top? Were personal vendettas being played out? Only those right in the centre of it know for sure. And just as the specific details of the complaint are unclear, so too it is hard to pick out what is the truth and what is wild gossip from what is an incredibly complex situation.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Photo by: Erik Junius

However, it is well known in politics that enemies often reveal their hands when the leader looks weak – but they can find their positions incredibly compromised when events turn around and there is no change at the top.

The other key aspect to it is where it leaves Horner’s own position inside the Red Bull F1 team as it goes forward.

Although in some respects the situation of the past few weeks made life difficult for him, the very prospect that those within the organisation had to ponder a future without him delivered food for thought about his true impact, and a reality that it would be hard to imagine anyone else running the team right now.

While developments like Ford’s letter to Red Bull urging it to end uncertainty over the situation was viewed by some as it perhaps being deeply unhappy, its stance was actually one shared by Horner. He wanted nothing more himself than the investigation to be wrapped up so he could get a move on.

And, behind closed doors, it is understood that Horner received widespread private backing from team partners and employees – typified in a show of support he received during a factory briefing this week.

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As Horner said at the RB20 launch: «We’re very united. We’ve always had tremendous support from the shareholders since Dietrich’s passing. The shareholders have been incredibly supportive and you can see the level of investment that there is with Powertrains, with the future of Formula 1.»

One thing is clear though: with Horner’s ultra-competitive mindset, despite all he has been through, he will not allow this situation to have weakened his nor the team’s focus on the job in hand — and especially open the door to rivals who have been hoping to exploit the troubles.

And the best way to prove that would be crushing domination on track at this weekend’s Bahrain GP.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing and Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing and Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

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