Toto Wolff on Christian Horner: ‘We are role models’

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, right, chats with Red Bull driver Sergio Perez of Mexico, centre, and Helmut Marko, director of the Red Bull Formula One teams, left, at the pits during Formula One pre season test at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain, Wednesday, Feb. 21
Christian Horner, right, was conspicuous on the opening day of testing despite being under investigation - AP/Darko Bandic

Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, has addressed the ongoing investigation into Red Bull counterpart Christian Horner for the first time, describing Formula One’s senior figures as “role models” and the controversy as “an issue for all Formula One”.

Wolff was quick to add, however, that there had been “a lot of speculation over the last weeks” and that it was important to respect the integrity of an independent process.

After a feverish couple of weeks, even by Formula One’s standards, pre-season testing finally got under way in Bahrain on Wednesday with world champion Max Verstappen setting a blistering pace on the opening morning to suggest it could be another year of Red Bull domination.

But all the paddock chatter concerned matters off-track, with the internal investigation into Horner launched by Red Bull’s parent company in Austria. That investigation follows allegations of inappropriate behaviour from a female colleague.

Horner, who strongly denies the allegations, said at the team’s car launch in Milton Keynes last week that he was “confident” he would clear his name.

But with the investigation now dragging into a third week, and with no end in sight, his every move in Bahrain is being scrutinised, to the extent that even his decision to arrive for testing in ‘civvies’ rather than regular team kit invited speculation. That is, until it was pointed out that Horner also wore his normal clothes at testing last year.

Still, there was plenty to go at for those trying to read into the body language at Red Bull; whether it was Horner retreating behind star designer Adrian Newey when the camera lingered on them, or his very public lunch outdoors with Helmut Marko, Red Bull Austria’s motorsport advisor and a man who has had his differences with Horner.

Horner was also seen at one stage having a long chat with Verstappen’s manager, Raymond Vermeulen, on the sofa outside the Red Bull motorhome.

The intention was clearly to project an image of business as usual. But while Red Bull were busy doing that, Wolff was being asked in the official FIA press conference what it said about “F1’s attitude to sexual equality” that Horner remained in his role with an investigation ongoing.

“I think it’s clear,” Wolff replied. “Formula One, and what the teams do, we stand for inclusion, equality, fairness, diversity. And it’s not only about talking about it, but living it day in, day out. And I think this is the standard that we’re setting ourselves.

“We are a global sport, one of the most important sports platforms in the world, and we’re role models.

“But having said that, there is a lot of speculation that’s been happening over the last weeks, speculation that we have heard of, and lots of things that are going on. I think what’s important in that stage [is that] this is done in the right way with transparency, and with rigour. I think that’s something that we need to look at, what the outcomes are, and what it means for Formula One, and how we can learn from that.

“Because we want to talk about racing cars. We want to talk about the sport, rather than these kinds of very critical topics that are more than just the team’s issue. It’s a phenomenon, or it’s an issue for all Formula One, and in general, for every individual that works out there.”

It is unclear when the investigation will conclude but the suggestion now is that it will be before the opening race, also in Bahrain, next week.

Wolff’s remarks come days after Formula One released a statement calling on Red Bull to provide clarity on the situation “at the earliest opportunity”.

Horner is expected to appear in a press conference in Bahrain on Thursday.