“A scoop for the Varsity newspaper,” jokes Red Bull Racing’s Christian Horner; not a far-fetched possibility when talking to a man renowned for unapologetically speaking his mind. After a champagne-filled Grand Prix in Monaco last week, the Team Principal dives into the pit stop of the Cambridge Union to talk all things Formula 1.

Horner has been in the F1 game since 2005, taking over the reins of a Jaguar F1 Team rebranded as Red Bull Racing. Under his stewardship, Red Bull climbed to the top of the paddock in 2010 with a Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championship brace, followed by another three consecutive years of dominance alongside the immensely talented Sebstian Vettel. The introduction of the ‘Hybrid Era’ in 2015 cued an end to Horner’s peace at the peak, being replaced by Mercedes’ Toto Wolff - all six-foot-five-inches of him towering over Red Bull atop the podiums for years on end.

Last year, however, this all changed. Max Verstappen won the Drivers’ Championship under the now-infamous lights of Abu Dhabi, with Horner finally having the last laugh. The Dutch champion has brought that same winning form to this season, but Red Bull’s Sergio Perez is also making his claim for the title, materialising on the streets of Monaco with an emphatic victory and narrowing the gap to Verstappen in the driver standings to just 15 points. Horner is the sufferer of a positive headache. Two drivers gunning for the title: what could possibly go wrong?

Well, history says quite a lot, and Horner is only too aware of that. When it comes to managing two competing drivers, Horner reckons “the most important thing is communication,” explaining that “it’s just important to play with a straight bat.” He admits: “We don’t have a de facto number-one driver in our team, it’s effectively whoever is ahead. But, at the same time, we’re still expecting them to work collectively because, for the team, the Constructors’ Championship carries as much, if not more, weight than the Drivers’, especially in terms of revenue.” The businessman has spoken, but what about the fans who want to see the pair race?

“Obviously, competing against Mercedes last year they had an awful lot to lose, being the monster winner that they were and, of course, they didn’t like being challenged”

After a slight pause and an audible ‘er’, Horner answers: “Yes [they can race each other]. I think we just need them, when they are racing each other, to show respect to themselves and obviously to the team. We don’t want them taking unnecessary risks. It’s still very early in the season and we’ve got a very competitive competitor in Ferrari, who arguably have had a better car than us in the last couple of races but we’ve managed to beat them through strategy and reliability. At this stage of the season, it’s very much about working together as a team.”

The difference between Red Bull’s current rivalry with Ferrari compared to last year’s matchup against the now-suffering Mercedes is like chalk and cheese. Verbal jabs in the media have been traded in for scenes of the drivers laughing and joking around with each other. “It’s just a different feeling with the competition that we have with Ferrari,” Horner explains, “I think there’s more respect, there’s not as much going on behind the scenes, as last year there was as much activity going on off the track as there was on it.

“I think there’s a respect between Charles [Leclerc] and Max; the fact that they’ve raced with and against each other since they were 12 years of age, they know each other well, each other’s traits and personalities, and there’s a genuine respect there. I think we’ve seen that in the early races this season. Inevitably, as the pressure increases, there will be more at stake in the second half of the championship, but it’s been a very healthy competition and great racing so far this year.”

It’s hard to imagine the ever-calm Mattia Binotto, Ferrari’s Team Principal, chucking on a pair of boxing gloves and going 12 rounds with Horner in the media. Is there, then, a part of the Red Bull boss that misses the Mercedes conflict? Horner replies: “Obviously, competing against Mercedes last year they had an awful lot to lose, being the monster winner that they were and, of course, they didn’t like being challenged. Whatever we could do to get under their skin was part of challenging them and pushing them, which ultimately paid out for us last year.”

“F1’s carbon footprint is very much at the forefront of all the teams’ and governing bodies’ agendas, and I think collectively we’ll come to some good solutions whilst not killing the DNA of the sport”

Mercedes sit 101 points off of Red Bull in the constructor standings ahead of this Sunday’s (12/6) Azerbaijan Grand Prix, while seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton places sixth in the driver rankings. “I’d prefer it if they [Mercedes] weren’t back for a little while yet,” Horner admits with a grin on his face, “but, look, they’re a quality team, they’ve got some great engineering talent and they’ll work out their issues. [Their struggle] just shows how competitive F1 is and how quickly it moves.” He continues: “The cars are still very immature in this round of regulation, so if Mercedes unlock that performance they could well be a contender in the second half of this year.”

Horner was once a driver himself, racing in Formula 3000 back in 1998, which was the final series before F1 at the timeLGEPR (Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0) / Wikimedia Commons

Filling the role of Horner’s sparring partner once occupied by Wolff, however, looks to be the FIA, F1’s governing body. In response to the FIA’s newly-introduced cost caps, which intend to limit the spending of the top teams for the sake of fair competition, Horner recently claimed ‘about seven teams probably need to miss the last four races [of the season] to come within the cap this year’, calling for the FIA ‘to address the inflationary issue’. “I think that [the idea of skipping races] was taken a little out of context,” refutes Horner, “what I was trying to demonstrate was that, in order for a team like a Ferrari, like a Mercedes, like a Red Bull, to hit the cap, it would take a draconian measure to the point of literally having to miss races.

“Now none of us will do that, so the situation that we have in the world with the way inflation is - goodness knows what it will be in the second half of this year - we have a genuine force majeure situation where the cost of living and utilities has seen exponential growth and, of course, it’s all very well for the teams that aren’t affected by the cap to say ‘well, suck it up’, but it’s a genuine issue for the top end of the grid. The budget cap was never designed to be a communist state; it was designed to stop the big teams from a spending frenzy. Nobody could have seen what’s going on in the world at the moment, so there just needs to be a common sense and practical solution to it.”


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Continuing his focus on the bigger picture of the sport, Horner also weighed in on the sustainability of F1. It was revealed that, amongst other objectives for the 2026 engine, the FIA aims to enforce a ‘powerful environmental message’ based on switching to ‘100% sustainable fuel’. Horner recognises that sustainability is “a key issue for the sport”, but also applauds the immediate work being done by the engineers: “It’s interesting because we’ve got some of the brightest engineers in the world and, effectively, how efficient the cars currently are with the hybridisation that we have, we’re very bad at telling that story.

“I think that what we can do with these new regulations is really push the technology and demonstrate what is achievable on fully sustainable fuel, and F1’s carbon footprint is very much at the forefront of all the teams’ and governing bodies’ agendas, and I think collectively we’ll come to some good solutions whilst not killing the DNA of the sport.”

As Horner is promptly whisked away to film a clip for the Union’s TikTok, the cameras stay rolling for an undisclosable Netflix show that is driving towards its fifth season after surviving a mediocre fourth. Horner is a media magnet, a ruthlessly skilful Team Principal, and also has a knack for providing a decent scoop.