“Ecclestone whispered in my ear: ‘just don’t f*ck it up!'” — Christian Horner’s drive to thrive

As the Formula One season reaches its dazzling conclusion, the Red Bull boss talks Netflix, crashes — and the determination to succeed

The foyer at Red Bull Racing headquarters in Milton Keynes is literally stacked to the ceiling with trophies. Each one has been lifted sky high on a podium, sprayed in champagne and then brought back to earth in a locked glass cabinet in Buckinghamshire.

Every time Christian Horner walks in he passes 17 years of memories. The longest serving team principal in Formula One was once the youngest, brought in by Red Bull in 2005 to manage a fledgling team that would scrap it out against the legendary names of motorsport.

“Nobody thought an energy drink maker from Austria, with no real experience in F1 stood a chance,” recalls Horner. “We were up against Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. There were big characters, big egos – we were almost starting from scratch.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Success didn’t come overnight, but from 2010 to 2013 Red Bull was dominant, with Sebastian Vettel winning four consecutive championships. The first was the most memorable — the narrowest of victories in the final race of the season at Abu Dhabi, against Fernando Alonso and the might of Ferrari.

Stefano Domenicali, the new CEO of Formula One Group, was team principal of Ferrari at the time. “I felt quite guilty because Stefano thought Ferrari had the championship in the bag,” chuckles Horner.

“They invited all their shareholders along to the grand prix and an enormous after-race party was planned. Then Seb nicked the title and everything just fizzled out. Stefano almost lost his job because of it. That just proves nothing is certain in F1 — not until the last corner of the last race.”

Which is where the 2021 championship appears to be heading. The bitter rivalry between seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has provided one of the sport’s most exciting seasons in living memory.

“Normally by now the championship has been wrapped up — but not this year. I hope it doesn’t go to the final race in Abu Dhabi on December 12 but I think it’s inevitable. This championship will go to the wire, which is great for F1 but not much good for my sleep pattern.”

The drivers’ championship sparked into life in dramatic fashion at the British Grand Prix in July, when Formula One returned to a packed crowd for the first time. While Lewis Hamilton recorded his eighth home after a ten-second penalty, the major talking point was an opening lap collision with Verstappen that sent the Dutchman into the barriers and out of the race.

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