A Life in the FAST LANE
Christian Horner is one of the biggest names in the world’s most glamorous sport
Ask the team principal of Formula One champions Red Bull Racing what he wishes he’d known a decade ago and the response comes back full throttle. “Only that Lewis Hamilton would still be driving after all these years!”
The 48-year-old is only half-joking. In December, Horner led his team to victory in the most dramatic season in F1 history, with Red Bull driver, Max Verstappen, locked in a bitter battle from start to finish with
The intense rivalry with Mercedes resulted in collisions, accusations and open warfare in the pit lane. The final final race of the season in Abu Dhabi saw Verstappen handed the trophy after a freak series of events that has caused repercussions throughout the sport and is set to shake-up the way races are run.
“We really pushed hard to win the championship. It was no surprise to me that the season went down to that last race in Abu Dhabi. It was a fantastic climax to an incredibly challenging year,” says Horner.
“It’s been so long since Red Bull won our four consecutive titles between 2010 and 2013. The intensity of competition was fierce in 2021 but for the first time in seven years we put Mercedes, Hamilton and their team principal, Toto Wolff, under serious pressure.”
Horner’s stellar Formula One career is matched by the Girl Power success of his pop star wife – Spice Girl singer Geri Halliwell. The couple’s chic Cotswold farmhouse is just outside Banbury and neighbours that of Lord Heseltine.
A sprawling collection of restored barns and outbuildings, the Horner lifestyle includes fast cars, A-lister friends from motorsport and the music industry, plus an ever-expanding menagerie of animals.
Just like any normal household, the kitchen is the hub of activity. When I arrive the couple’s four-year-old son Monty is pedalling a toy tractor at breakneck speed, while Geri’s daughter from a previous relationship, Bluebell Madonna, 15, is outside studiously grooming her mum’s horse, Beauty.
During lockdown, Horner tried horse-riding instead of horsepower. “Geri and the girls love to ride, so I’ve become a bit of a happy hacker. It’s a great way to see the countryside and switch off from the madness of this world. Geri is much more elegant than me, I’m brute force and determination in the saddle.”
Whatever Geri really, really wants, it’s unlikely Horner will return the favour and allow his wife to try out a racetrack. “Geri is the worst driver – she’s in a total world of her own and thinks everybody else is doing everything wrong. When she concentrates she drives well. The problem is, the amount of time she spends concentrating on driving is minimal compared to everything else going on in Geri’s world.”
"We really pushed hard to win the championship. It was no surprise to me that the season went down to that last race in Abu Dhabi. It was a fantastic climax to an incredibly challenging year"
Covid also meant the family didn’t go on holiday. “Because I travel to 23 grand prix every year, it was lovely to stay in one place for a while. We bought a big tent and a neighbour barbecued for us. I filled the kids with marshmallows and sugar, so there was no chance of getting them to sleep later.”
Horner’s rise to the top of Formula One almost seemed inevitable from a young age. His grandfather and father ran a successful car component company together in the Midlands - there were always plenty of interesting motors on the driveway.
When he was 12, Horner’s parents bought him a go-kart to speed around the fields at their home, near Leamington Spa. The grass proved too wet, so he went to an airfield track with his father. From that moment on Horner was hooked – he wanted to be a proper racing driver.
He put university on hold after winning a Formula Renault scholarship in 1991 and later had a successful career in British Formula Two and Formula 3000, setting up his own team, Arden. However, despite a trial with Lotus, Horner realised he would never be good enough to race in Formula One.
His big break came when he joined a fledging Red Bull in 2005 as the youngest team principal of the era, aged 31. “It was a massive moment in my life but also felt like a natural progression. All the principles that served me well building my Formula 3000 team I then applied to Formula One.
“At the end of the day, people are your biggest asset – the right technicians, engineers and drivers. I was a big Adrian Newey (Red Bull’s chief technical officer) fan, so when he left McLaren to join us people stood up and took notice. If you are going to shoot for the stars, you need somebody like Adrian.”
“At the end of the day, people are your biggest asset – the right technicians, engineers and drivers”
Red Bull finished the season strongly in 2009 and then won the Driver’s and Constructors’ championships in 2010 – the first of four back-to-back wins with Sebastien Vettel and Mark Webber in the driving seat.
“2010 was quite a year. Adrian and I both bought an Aston Martin Vantage V12 to celebrate. It was the first real present I had afforded myself.”
Horner’s luxurious home is full of memorabilia. A snooker room in one of the outbuildings is plastered with posters of the Spice Girls and countless motorsport trophies and photos from her husband’s career. In the loo is a Time Out cover of the Spice Girls, plus a framed copy of Your Song by Elton John, played at the couple’s wedding in 2015.
“I don’t mind being in the limelight on a grand prix weekend but not the rest of the time. I’m so proud of what our team achieved in 2021. A lot of drivers would have crumpled under the pressure but Max was brilliant.”