Christian Horner messages leaked to hundreds via anonymous email

Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner takes a phone call on the deck of the Red Bull hospitality suite during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on February 29, 2024
Horner was exonerated on Wednesday in an internal Red Bull investigation, but evidence that might have been used during that probe was leaked the following day - Kym Illman/Getty Images

Christian Horner and Red Bull have been plunged into a fresh crisis following a leak of secret evidence from the investigation that cleared him of inappropriate behaviour towards a female colleague.

A cache of material made up predominantly of screengrabs from WhatsApp exchanges purportedly between Horner and his accuser, including images, was sent from an anonymous email address – – to hundreds of journalists who have reported on the case at around 3pm GMT.

The motivation for the leak is unknown but the timing – on the eve of the first grand prix of the season, held in Bahrain – could not have been more dramatic.

A total of 79 screenshots were sent to a variety of outlets and inevitably began appearing on social media, firstly on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Facebook, and then more widely in the West on X, formerly Twitter.

Among those who received the email were members of the Formula One paddock, including FIA president Mohamed ben Sulayem, F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali and the grid’s nine other team principals.

Christian Horner looks at his mobile phone
Christian Horner looks at his mobile phone on the day the emails were leaked - AFP/ANDREJ ISAKOVIC
Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner (C) speaks to a reporter as he arrives at the Bahrain International Circuit ahead of the first practice session of the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix in Sakhir
Horner speaks to a reporter as he arrives at the Bahrain track - Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

Horner threatens to sue anyone who publishes messages

Horner, 50, who is married to Geri Halliwell, the former Spice Girl, issued a legal letter from Harbottle & Lewis, the go-to law firm for celebrities and Royals trying to protect their privacy and reputation, threatening to sue any organisation that made the messages public.

Horner’s lawyers argue that publication of the messages would be unlawful and repeated Horner’s denials of the allegations.

It remains unclear if the messages formed any part of the investigation into Horner that had been ordered by the team’s parent company Red Bull GmbH, which is based in Austria. In a statement on Wednesday Red Bull said the “grievance has been dismissed” and that its independent investigation had been “fair, rigorous and impartial”. But Red Bull refused to make the report public and has declined to say who the KC is who carried it out.

Horner’s famous wife had been due in Bahrain to offer her husband her support. She had not shown up by Thursday evening. Horner – known as Whinger Spice in some quarters of the F1 world for his complaining about decisions affecting his team – will be hoping she shows up and gives him a public display of support.

Horner, who did show his face at the Red Bull pit wall for both practice sessions on Thursday, said in a statement that did not directly address the veracity or appropriateness of the leaked messages: “I will not comment on anonymous speculation, but to reiterate I have always denied the allegations.

“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.”


How Horner's first day back in F1 as a 'free' man rapidly fell apart

Read more

Messages are ‘all over the internet’

The messages will further test media law. While the UK has some of the most restrictive libel and privacy laws in the world, F1 is a global sport and coverage elsewhere might not be so forgiving.

Mark Stephens, a media law expert and partner at Howard Kennedy solicitors, said: “This is an abject demonstration of how out of date and touch we are in the UK with the reality of global media. We are getting into the farcical situation where British newspapers are not able to publish while the messages are all over the internet and in newspapers on the Continent and around the world. It is virtually impossible to get an injunction to stop this.”

Stephens said lawyers for Horner will first and foremost be going after whoever leaked the messages. “Clearly somebody has it in for Horner and he must try to trace that directly. That is part of the challenge. Whether true or false this appears to be an attempt to try and oust him from his job,” he said.

For now Horner has two battles to fight. One is commercial: to stay chief executive of the Red Bull team which he has transformed into the best by far in the world, justifying his £8 million salary. The second is to keep his marriage intact.

Geri Halliwell Horner and Christian Horner attend the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco at Circuit de Monaco
Horner with his wife Geri - Arnold Jerocki/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Horner’s rivals call for transparency

The leak came as Horner’s arch-rivals questioned the outcome of the investigation that cleared him amid calls for FIA, the sport’s governing body, to launch its own probe into the affair.

Toto Wolff and Zak Brown, the respective team principals of Mercedes and McLaren, criticised the lack of transparency from Red Bull GmbH, the Austrian parent company of Red Bull Racing F1, following its announcement that a complaint against Horner had been dismissed.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of the first grand prix of the season in Bahrain, Wolff said: “There is a lady in the organisation who indicated that there was a problem, it was investigated and yesterday we all received the message that it was OK. I believe that a major sport needs more transparency on such dangerous topics. I wonder what the position of the leadership is. I don’t think it should remain vague as it is now. We are outsiders and, of course, we don’t know exactly what is going on. But, looking at just a statement, it doesn’t seem to me how things should go in today’s time. Although, in Formula One, we may be in our own bubble and others are satisfied with that.”

Brown said: “There are still many rumours and also many questions. I think those who run this sport have a responsibility towards the entire sport and all our fans, to make it clear that everything has been clear and transparent for them. That they come to the same conclusion as Red Bull and they agree with the outcome. Until then, I think there will continue to be speculation and many unanswered questions about the whole process. That is not healthy for the sport. It is up to the FIA and Formula One whether they can clarify whether they have the clarity that is needed.”

Williams counterpart James Vowles said: “I have a responsibility for Williams, and if anything like that happens here, I would want to make sure we properly investigate it and do a robust process that is clear to the outside world what has happened.

“I trust that Red Bull have done a strong process and we have to in that circumstance.

“But what I want is us as a sport to be proud that we are sitting on a set of foundations that is one of inclusivity, one of openness and transparency and all I ask in that matter is that we make sure we have faith and trust that all of the organisations are working for the same standards.”

Horner: Red Bull have never been stronger

Horner earlier spoke for the first time since being cleared, saying he was “pleased” the case was over. He also declared that unity within the reigning Formula One world champions had “never been stronger”.

That followed the conclusion of a weeks-long investigation commissioned by Red Bull GmbH into a complaint made by a female colleague.

A statement announcing the 50-year-old had been cleared was released at almost the exact moment he touched down in Bahrain at 3.30pm on Wednesday UK time.

“I’m just pleased that the process is over,” Horner told Sky Sports News ahead of free practice on Thursday.

“Obviously, I can’t comment about it, but we are here very much to focus now on the grand prix and the season ahead and trying to defend both of our titles.”

Asked if he thought it was the end of the matter, he added: “Well, I can’t give you any further comment. But the process has been conducted and concluded.”

Horner, who has been in charge of Red Bull since the team’s formation in 2005, was asked if he had any regrets.

“Again, I’m not going to be able to give you, I’m afraid, any further comments on it, but I’m pleased to be here in Bahrain and then with the team focused on the season ahead.”

Asked if the team was unified, he added: “Within the team, it has never been stronger.”