ALISON BOSHOFF: Does a vicious power struggle inside his Formula 1 racing team lie behind the 'sexual messages' scandal threatening to topple Geri's husband?

After an unexpected podium finish in 2006, Red Bull’s Formula 1 team principal Christian Horner jumped — naked beneath a Superman cape — into a swimming pool.

The joyful leap was to fulfil a bet (he hadn’t believed the team could do so well) and his colleagues cheered him on that May day in Monaco.

The 32-year-old wunderkind had been hired only the previous year by a billionaire to lead the new Formula 1 team. With a willingness to fight, and a competitive urge verging on the pathological — he describes winning as ‘like an addiction’ — Horner has taken Red Bull to its zenith.

Last year, Red Bull won 21 of the year’s 22 races — the most dominant season by any team in F1 history.

Given that success, you might expect joy to be unconfined at Red Bull just now.

Christian and Geri Horner at the Bahrain Grand Prix 2017

Christian and Geri Horner at the Bahrain Grand Prix 2017

Back row from left: Ronnie and Sally Wood, Christian Horner, Gary Barlow, Rod Stewart and wife Penny at Christian¿s 50th birthday party in November. Front row from left: Emma Bunton and Geri

Back row from left: Ronnie and Sally Wood, Christian Horner, Gary Barlow, Rod Stewart and wife Penny at Christian’s 50th birthday party in November. Front row from left: Emma Bunton and Geri

However, all the talk this week in Bahrain — where the first Grand Prix of the season will soon be held — is about which of his many enemies could be trying to overthrow Horner, who earns £8 million a year.

He is currently under investigation after being accused of inappropriate behaviour towards a female member of staff — allegations he strenuously denies.

There is apparently no shortage of bad blood between Horner and a number of factions at Red Bull, not least the ruthless former driver Helmut Marko, the Salzburg-based director of Red Bull’s Formula 1 Teams.

Also in the frame — startlingly — is Red Bull’s £70 million champion driver, 26-year-old Max Verstappen, who is guided by his manager father, Jos, a former driver.

Everyone is now wondering who will replace Horner at the team should an inquiry find against him.

One well-placed source says the game is probably up for Horner, even if he survives the inquiry. ‘How can he stay on with those sort of fault lines in place?’ he says.

It’s a miserable turn of events for Horner. ‘He looks worn down and worn out,’ says one colleague.

It seems that Horner — by reputation aggressive and conceited — has been well and truly humbled.

‘Horner never learnt constraints, never discovered the reasonable limits of power, often lashing out at people who couldn’t fight back,’ lamented sports writer Matthew Syed this week. This is some reckoning, then.

Looking weary, with bitten nails and an uncharacteristic pallor, Horner said on Thursday: ‘It’s business as usual. There obviously is a process. I fully deny any accusations that have been made against me but, of course, I’ll work with that process, which I hope is concluded in the near future.’

The story so far is an extraordinary one, involving, according to a leak, a cache of sexually suggestive WhatsApp messages allegedly sent by Horner to a female colleague.

When the news broke on February 6, it was said only that he was accused of ‘incredibly controlling behaviour’ by a female colleague. He denied it fully and appeared relaxed at a media event when he said that he had a ‘very supportive wife’ in former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, who is standing by him.

That, though, was before the startling development two weeks later in which De Telegraaf, a Dutch newspaper, said the accusations had a sexual component.

The newspaper claimed to have seen a number of WhatsApp messages between Horner and a female colleague which went back several years. The source of the leak has caused a sensation: Red Bull’s star driver, Max Verstappen, is Dutch, as is his influential father, Jos.

Their nationality has been enough to spark talk — which may be entirely unfounded — of a connection between the Verstappens, the Dutch newspaper which leaked the allegations and Horner’s ‘wronged’ colleague. The newspaper also claimed Horner had offered to settle the matter with her for £650,000. This he denies, through his lawyers.

Meanwhile, other claims are circulating which say Horner’s female co-worker at Red Bull was seen looking cosy with the Verstappens at a Red Bull party on a yacht in Abu Dhabi in November 2021.

Geri out on the town with Christian

Geri out on the town with Christian

Geri at her home in the Cotswolds where she has carved out an idyllic country life

Geri at her home in the Cotswolds where she has carved out an idyllic country life

But on the night in question, they were all celebrating a victory, so why shouldn’t they be on very friendly terms?

Others point to the abrupt departure of another woman from Red Bull, who was friends with the female co-worker thought to have accused Horner, and say her exit may have something to do with the scandal.

Little wonder the atmosphere is febrile in Milton Keynes, where Horner leads a staff of 1,500 and parks his £650,000 historic Aston Martin DB5 in a prominent reserved space.

Many there believe Horner is the victim of an internal fight within the Austrian Red Bull family. He was protected by its founder, Dietrich Mateschitz, but his mentor died in 2022, aged 78, leaving Horner exposed politically.

Some in the company apparently feel control of the racing arm should return to Salzburg, the home of the soft drinks company.

Horner spent nearly nine hours last Friday at the central London offices of a KC hired by Red Bull to look into the allegations. When the KC will report is a matter of debate. Everyone is keen for it to happen before the Bahrain Grand Prix next Saturday. 

In the meantime, both Horner and Max Verstappen are giving every appearance of continuing a cordial working relationship. Both made all the right noises at a press conference last week about how well they get on.

Sources believe the real beef lies between Verstappen senior and Horner — a tricky situation.

It is perhaps unfortunate that Horner’s wife, Geri, ‘unfollowed’ Verstappen on Instagram soon after the De Telegraaf story was published. After the unfollowing became public, Geri swiftly refollowed Verstappen . . . and David and Victoria Beckham, whom she had also nixed. It’s not clear what the Beckhams have done to get dragged into the scandal.

(Geri’s publicist claims — despite screen shots which appear to show the opposite — that it is ‘inaccurate’ to say Geri had unfollowed anyone.)

Everyone feels for Geri, who was 41 when she started dating Horner and 42 when they wed. They now have a seven-year-old son, Monty.

Before the scandal broke she told a magazine: ‘I was a late developer. I’m incredibly grateful to be in a really loving relationship.’

One friend told the Mail: ‘Geri worked very hard to get that marriage — there is no way she is letting it go. She always said she was determined to find her prince, and she felt she had with Christian.’

Certainly, Geri had her share of romantic disappointments, most notably perhaps with British screenwriter Sacha Gervasi, the father of her 17-year-old daughter, Bluebell Madonna. Their romance was over before the baby was born, and it’s said the first time he laid eyes on her was via the pages of Hello! magazine.

With her husband and children, Geri has carved out an idyllic country life at their Cotswolds estate. Now 51, she goes by the name Halliwell-Horner and is fully committed to Christian. Indeed, as the Mail revealed earlier this month, the wi-fi password at their home is ‘Wonderful husband’.

Now she is standing resolutely by him, but she has been ‘flattened’ by the scandal — especially as the alleged recipient is a colleague she knew well — and the alleged nature of the messages.

A friend says this week: ‘Geri is devastated and has been struggling to eat and sleep. Her family and fellow Spice Girls are worried about her.

‘I hear Christian is trying to pep her up to stay positive, but she has gone to ground in the way she did after she left the Spice Girls. She’s not speaking to anyone.’

The source believes Geri may skip the trip to Bahrain for the Grand Prix, as she cannot face the scrutiny.

She’s being supported by her Spanish mother, Ana Maria, and sister, Natalie, but there are ‘only a few’ other friends on whom she can call. Meanwhile, she is trying her best to help the husband whom she adores.

‘I believe she is in on all the lawyers’ calls,’ says a source. ‘Christian has been telling her that everything is fine, and will be fine — but she just wants it to go away.

‘It’s a real problem as her focus is absolutely him. She is completely loyal to him; that remains.’

That may be so, but friends say Geri is, nonetheless, ‘mortified and angry’ with Christian for humiliating her.

What appears to be deeply troubling for her is that the shiny veneer of their relationship has been tarnished after years of orchestrating a PR campaign to get the public back on side after he left his long-term partner, with whom he had a young daughter, to be with her in 2015.

‘When they started out, they had so much negative press because Geri was portrayed as a home-wrecker,’ says the friend.

‘But they have worked very, very hard to turn that corner and change how they are perceived.

‘Geri has been ultra cautious with her image, trying so hard to shake off her brassy Ginger Spice past and transform herself into a wholesome Oxfordshire housewife.

‘That aspect of this is absolutely devastating for her, but will their marriage end? Probably not. Behind closed doors she won’t let him forget it; but to the outside world, things will be all good.’

Christian is said to be ‘clinging’ to Geri ‘for dear life’. Why? Because while no one is in any doubt that he loves his wife, friends say he is also ‘dazzled’ by her celebrity contacts.

Those who know him say he was ‘absolutely loving’ the A-listers at the 50th birthday which Geri threw for him last year, with the likes of Sir Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood and Gary Barlow in attendance.

Christian is also said to ‘enjoy’ Geri’s connection with David and Victoria Beckham.

‘He won’t want to lose that — he’s fighting to keep that,’ says the friend.

At present, her husband’s accuser is continuing with her duties at the company’s Milton Keynes headquarters, which must make for an excruciating atmosphere.

But the sharks are circling. Horner’s rival at Mercedes, Toto Wolff, made a pious little speech about the importance of role models in Formula 1 this week.

He said: ‘We stand for inclusion, equality, fairness, diversity. It’s about living it, day in, day out. And 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.’

The fact he and Horner cheerfully detest each other and spend their professional lives accusing each other of cheating has, naturally, nothing to do with it.

It is unclear when the Red Bull investigation will conclude, but the suggestion is that it will be before the race in Bahrain next week. Liberty Media, which owns F1, is keen for it to conclude sooner rather than later.

Where the chips will fall ultimately is far from clear. Some publications are suggesting a sensational scenario in which Horner may make a leap over to Ferrari, where he would join Lewis Hamilton. That would be a crowning irony given their long and bitter rivalry.

He may, of course, choose to quit the sport altogether. In a recent interview he said he would enjoy being a property developer.

All that’s clear is that, whatever the storm ahead, he will have Geri by his side.


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.