Sky F1 presenters David Croft and Ted Kravitz have outlined the one area where they believe Christian Horner fell short as a team boss in 2023.
With Red Bull romping to both titles for a second consecutive year, taking them to a sixth Constructors’ Championship in less than two decades, there are precious few criticisms that can be made of team boss Christian Horner.
Reflecting on every team boss for a post-season Sky F1 feature, Croft and Kravitz spoke in glowing terms about what Horner has achieved and the umpteen plates he has to keep spinning, but both felt he could have handled one particular issue a little better.
Ted Kravitz: Helmut Marko situation only way I mark Christian Horner down
After the Italian GP, Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko sparked controversy by making comments pertaining to Sergio Perez’s performance level and linking them to his nationality.
Red Bull Racing didn’t issue a statement to condemn the comments, with Marko addressing the situation by appearing on Red Bull-owned ServusTV and issuing a statement to apologise – Perez publicly accepting the apology and saying he understood Marko and the context of what he meant.
But the handling of the incident from the F1 team’s side was seen as a reason to mark down Horner’s 2023 achievements when it came to the season review, according to Kravitz and Croft.
“He’s juggling Helmut Marko, who is the definition of a loose cannon,” Kravitz said.
“I just marked him down because of the Marko comments on Checo [Sergio] Perez. I remember saying this on the Notebook, on Sergio Perez – once they dealt with those comments from Marko, could Perez not say ‘Helmut, OK, we’ve dealt with that, I’ve forgiven you. Can you stop being so mean to me now?’
“That’s what it came down to for me. I’m sure if Christian could do this year again, he’d say to Helmut or himself, ‘You know what? I think we can give Checo a bit of a break here. We don’t need to be mean to him. He doesn’t respond too well to the stick. Let’s give him a bit more of a carrot.’
“That’s the only way that I marked him down. But Christian is still clearly the team boss of the year, no question.”
But Croft believes that Horner’s hands were tied, due to the fact that Marko – as an employee of Red Bull the brand – was above him on the totem pole of company hierarchy.
“What Christian tried to do behind the scenes was very much the right thing,” Croft said.
“But he didn’t have the power to say to the brand [Red Bull] and overturn what the brand wanted, in terms of putting out statements when a statement needed to be coming from the team straight away. At that stage, Christian had his hands tied a little bit.
“What Christian wanted to do was put a statement out straight away because he wanted to show support to Sergio, because that was the right thing to do and the only right thing to do.
“But, as far as I understand it, the Red Bull brand didn’t want to do that. Don’t forget Helmut Marko, technically, is not an employee of Red Bull Racing. He works for Red Bull, the company man, they’re two different things.
“Christian said this to me once, and I went ‘Yeah, but the trouble is, he’s stood at the back of your garage and he’s got a Red Bull jacket on. He looks like he’s part of the team. So no, that’s not gonna wash with anybody.’
“But, sometimes, Christian hasn’t quite got the authority on a very, very senior level with a brand that you would expect or he would hope to have, to solve a situation very quickly. I think that played out in and around Singapore when, eventually, the statement from Helmut did come – a few days too late.”
But the markdown of Horner for the Marko situation was the only negative the Sky presenters could come up with from 2023, with Croft saying that Horner’s leadership style has meshed with Red Bull perfectly over the past two decades.
“He’s a racer, and whatever people from the outside think about Christian Horner, I know he kind of divides opinion sometimes, and probably Abu Dhabi 2021 is part and parcel of that, but there is no better team principal for the team that is Red Bull than Christian Horner, the two fit absolutely perfectly,” he said.
“He has turned them from what was a half-decent outfit in Milton Keynes to world leaders, and he should be applauded for that.
“I don’t think he always gets everything right. I think that he probably still has problems behind the scenes. Dealing with the drivers is probably his biggest problem. Not necessarily his characters, but the people behind the drivers and trying to keep everybody happy – which is a nice problem to have when you’ve got the winning car.
“But he is absolutely the right person for Red Bull. You’ve got to hand it to him in what he has developed and the culture he’s developed at Milton Keynes.”