Formula One Season Opener Marred by Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against Red Bull Team Boss

Mr. Horner and his Spice Girl spouse, Geri Halliwell, offered a united front in Bahrain amid a media frenzy caused by leaked texts and photos allegedly involving Mr. Horner and a female employee.

AP/Darko Bandic
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, left, walks with his wife Geri Halliwell prior to the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit Saturday. AP/Darko Bandic

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner rested his arm around the hip of his former Spice Girl wife, Geri Halliwell. Both smiled at Red Bull driver Max Verstappen standing on the first-place podium as the Dutch National Anthem played to honor his victory Saturday at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Mr. Verstappen and the Red Bull Racing team dominated the opening race of the Formula One season, winning the pole, the fastest lap, and ultimately the race from start to finish. While the 57 laps offered little drama, photos of Mr. Horner embracing Ms. Halliwell did. 

On the track, Red Bull picked up right where it left off in 2023 when it dominated the sport by winning 21 races and Mr. Verstappen capturing a third world championship. Sergio Perez gave Red Bull a 1-2 finish on Saturday, earning second place ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr., who drove Ferrari to third place. The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is next weekend in Jeddah where the controversy surrounding Mr. Horner and sexual misconduct allegations is sure to follow.

Mr. Horner and Ms. Halliwell offered a united front in Bahrain amid a media frenzy caused by leaked texts and photos allegedly involving Mr. Horner and a female employee. The sexually suggestive texts and photos were among 79 files emailed to an estimated 200 people, including the CEO of Formula One Group, Stefano Domenicali; a member of every other racing team; media outlets; and reportedly Mr. Verstappen’s father, Jos.

The screenshots of exchanges on WhatsApp arrived about 24 hours after Red Bull announced on Wednesday that a three-week investigation cleared Mr. Horner of “coercive behavior” allegations brought by a female employee. “Red Bull can confirm that the grievance has been dismissed,” read a statement issued by the company.

If Red Bull thought the controversy was going away, it isn’t. The Sun reported that the former female employee believes the investigation was “one-sided” and feels “crucified.”  The texts and emails were reportedly part of the investigation that exonerated Mr. Horner of wrongdoing.

Sources described Ms. Halliwell as being in “tears” when she first learned of the allegations in early February and contemplating whether to end her marriage this week after learning of the sexually suggestive texts while traveling to Bahrain. According to one report, the female employee asked Mr. Horner to stop his requests for pictures and sexting, adding: “How would you feel if your wife Geri Halliwell did this?”

Mr. Horner has denied all allegations and insists he has the support of the Red Bull organization. “Absolutely,” Mr. Horner told Sky Sports after Sunday’s race. “I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

It’s not a given he’ll be in Jeddah. The release of the texts and emails created a firestorm as Red Bull and Formula One leaders nervously await what might be next.

Mercedes CEO Toto Wolff demanded more transparency with the results of the investigation. “I believe with the aspiration as a global sport, on such critical topics, it needs more transparency and I wonder what the sport’s position is.”

McLaren CEO Zak Brown said the International Automobile Association and Formula One should investigate the matter. “It’s the responsibility ultimately of the organizers of Formula One, the owners of Formula One, to make sure that all the racing teams and the personnel and the drivers and everyone else involved in the sport are operating in a manner in which we all live by.” Mr. Brown added: “I think from what I’ve seen there continues to be a lot of rumors and speculation, questions,” 

If his marriage seems intact, Mr. Horner’s role as principal of Red Bull’s Formula One team remains in peril. Since assuming his post in 2005, Red Bull has won six constructor’s championships. Mr. Verstappen also became a three-time world champion, setting F1 records with 10 consecutive wins and 19 overall in 22 races in 2023.

The new RB-20 design for 2024 will be difficult to beat after winning its first race by 22.5 seconds. “We’re a very strong team,” Mr. Horner told Sky Sports. “We’ve got tremendous support. We’ve got tremendous partners, great shareholders behind us as well. You don’t achieve this kind of result by not being united.”

The New York Sun

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