Thursday, July 25, 2024

Christian Horner denies allegations of misconduct after trove of leaked nudes and illicit texts emerge just 36 hours before F1’s opening race

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Less than a day after Formula 1 Red Bull Racing said it resolved allegations of misconduct against team principal Christian Horner involving a team employee, a file allegedly containing potentially incriminating evidence against Horner was leaked to over 200 emails, including numerous media outlets, Liberty Media, F1, the FIA, and the sport’s nine other team leaders, AP reported.

The 79 documents, which were reviewed by Fortune, consisted mostly of screenshots of alleged WhatsApp message exchanges that appear to be between Horner and another person. The messages include pictures of meals and snacks, nude photos of an unidentified man, suggestive exchanges, and what appear to be pictures of Horner in multiple different outfits, including a jacket and pageboy cap.

In one exchange, the sender tells the text recipient that they can work from home after leaving their laptop at the factory. In another, the sender and the other party appear to keep meeting plans a secret from someone named “Geri.” Horner’s wife is former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell. There are multiple messages asking the text recipient to delete their WhatsApp messaging history, as well as a text from the other party asking the sender to “stop” after they sent messages that appear to have been later deleted.

Fortune has not verified the authenticity of the files; neither has ESPN nor the AP, which previously reported on the trove of messages and pictures sent from a generic email account. Horner denied inappropriate behavior again after the alleged messages leaked.

“I won’t comment on anonymous speculation, but to reiterate, I have always denied the allegations,” Horner said in a statement read to journalists by a team spokesman, via AP. “I respected the integrity of the independent investigation and fully cooperated with it every step of the way. It was a thorough and fair investigation conducted by an independent specialist barrister and it has concluded, dismissing the complaint made. I remain fully focused on the start of the season.”

Red Bull Racing did not respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

Red Bull launched an internal investigation on Feb. 5 after Dutch newspaper de Telegraaf reported allegations of “inappropriate behavior” against Horner, who rejected the claims. Horner was cleared of misconduct, and the grievances by a female employee were dismissed.

F1 and Red Bull Racing have a history of turning a blind eye to inappropriate and even violent behavior from big names in the sport. Former F1 driver Jos Verstappen—father to reigning champion Max Verstappen—was convicted of assault in 2000 after fracturing a victim’s skull in 1998. He raced in F1 from 1994 to 2003 and makes frequent appearances in the Red Bull garage during race weekends. Over a decade later, former driver Adrian Sutil was convicted in 2012 of causing grievous bodily harm, and though he did not have a race seat for that season, he returned to the sport and drove for Force India the next year.

The files were released when Horner was attending a practice event for F1’s first race of 2024, which is slated to begin less than 36 hours from time of publishing. The event drew over 1.3 million viewers in 2023, part of the explosion of the sport’s popularity in the U.S. in recent years. F1 has an enterprise value of $18.6 billion, including debt, according to Sportico. Its growth is in part thanks to Netflix’s hit docuseries Drive to Survive, in which Horner is a leading character. Red Bull is considered the benchmark team this season after winning decisive back-to-back team championships. Star driver Verstappen has won three consecutive drivers’ championships in a row for the team.

Horner played an instrumental role in Red Bull’s success and has helmed the team since its 2005 inception, when the energy drink company bought the team from Jaguar as part of its bid to build a sporting empire—and ultimately generate drink sales. In its first ten years in F1, Red Bull invested $1.2 billion in its eponymous team, which is now valued at $2.6 billion and had an estimated 2023 revenue of $510 million, according to Forbes. Horner is the longest-tenured team principal in the F1 paddock.

Red Bull has won six constructor’s titles, seven drivers’ titles, and over 100 grands prix. It further extended its grasp in F1 in 2005 when it bought a second team, now called Visa CashApp RB, which generated an additional $260 million in revenue in 2023. The team also owes its accolades in part to Global Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey, who led the design efforts for all of Red Bull’s championship-winning cars. Per Sports Illustrated, Newey and Horner have a mutual protection clause in their respective contracts, connecting their fates should one leave the team.

The team’s success in F1 has, in the company’s own words, made its marketing gamble pay off. In November, Horner said Red Bull Racing’s success correlated to energy drink sales, calling the team the “the biggest marketing impact that the beverage company has.” The drink has 13% of the energy drink market share worldwide.

“They see it, they can measure it. It’s incredible the amount of consumption of Red Bull that is happening,” Horner told CNBC.

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