Toto Wolff ‘headphone smash’ style not the way Christian Horner runs a team

Michelle Foster
Mercedes' Toto Wolff and Red Bull's Christian Horner shake hands on the grid at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Yas Marina, December 2021.

Mercedes' Toto Wolff and Red Bull's Christian Horner shake hands on the grid at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Yas Marina, December 2021.

Christian Horner reckons Toto Wolff’s desk-banging moments last season were a sign Red Bull had “got to” him, the Briton believing it is not good management.

Last season, Formula 1 witnessed its most engaging championship fight in years, Max Verstappen versus Lewis Hamilton.

While the Red Bull driver was chasing his first Drivers’ title, Hamilton was seeking a record-breaking eighth, with the two trading P1s and paint along the way.

Behind the scenes the action was just as fierce, some days even more so, as Horner and his Mercedes counterpart threw verbal blows at one another.

Wolff was also caught throwing a few at his desk as he vented his frustration.

Horner says that is not something he would ever do as it sends a bad message to the rest of the team.

“I think the Brits are quite good at that,” he said on the ‘Diary of a CEO’ podcast. “Keeping a stiff upper lip, head down and get on with it.

“For me, last year’s World Championship was very much about that and you could see it was a titanic battle, not just between the two drivers on track but by the two teams off the track. And the person you are gauging yourself and are pitched against as the team principal, your opposite number.

“It’s a mental game as much as a physical activity as well, and of course it was the first time that team in a seven or eight-year period had come under any form of pressure.

“I think you see people’s true personalities and what they have really got when they are under pressure.

“So of course, when you see your counterpart smashing up headphones and pointing and ranting at cameras, you know you’ve got to them.

“Because you know if they are venting in such a way and they are feeling that pressure, the people beneath them will be offloaded onto as well, that they will be on the receiving end of that.

“And that, in my opinion, or my experience, causes people to tighten up.”

Horner recalls his words to Red Bull before the finale

Verstappen and Hamilton went into the season finale tied on points, 369.5 apiece after 21 races of momentum swings.

It meant Abu Dhabi was a winner-takes-all grand prix with Verstappen doing just that with a last-lap-of-the-season pass on Hamilton.

But despite what was at stake, Horner recalls telling the Red Bull team ahead of the race to just enjoy it, that no matter the outcome they should be proud of themselves.

“I remember before the race in Abu Dhabi getting all the guys together. I said ‘look, whatever happens today will happen’,” he said.

“All we can do is do the best we can today and the most important thing is to be proud of what you’ve achieved to get us to this position to be fighting for this World Championship, that we’ve taken that all the way down to the wire.

“Most of all, enjoy it, enjoy this experience, whatever the outcome will be we don’t know. But let’s go in there with an approach of give it everything and enjoy it and embrace it. And in the end it paid off.

“I think that as a leader, how you conduct yourself permeates throughout a business. So if you’re feeling that tension then you’re passing that on. For me, that’s not a healthy way to lead a team, by fear.

“You want it to be inclusive, you want it to be open, you want people to be able to feel they’ve got a voice and that voice will be heard, rather than being afraid to speak up for fear of getting their head taken off.”

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen crowed 2022 F1 World Champion. Japan October 2022

Beating Mercedes is immensely satisfying

After last year’s ferocious fight, this season Red Bull have romped to the World title with Verstappen securing that in Japan with his 12th win of this season.

But while Red Bull have had an epic season, winning 14 of the 18 races that have been run, Mercedes are still chasing a first win.

The Brackley squad’s W13 has failed to challenge Red Bull’s RB18 – something that comes as a surprise to Horner.

The team boss reckons they were the last to make the switch to the all-new 2022 ground-effect aerodynamic cars and thought Red Bull would pay a hefty price by lagging behind at the start of this season.

Instead, Verstappen claimed his first win of the season at race two and Red Bull are romping towards their first championship double since 2013.

Asked if he is okay with Mercedes being out of the fight, Horner said: “No, because it’s enjoyable racing against a team of their quality because they raise the stakes and raise the bar.

“And then we had to raise it higher to beat them. And so the satisfaction that gives you is immense.

“I think what we are really proud of this year is we put everything into last year, even at the expense of this year, because again [there was] another massive regulation change coming into this year, the biggest in the last 40 years.

“We consoled ourselves to say ‘look, we’ll put more time into 2021 and if that costs us a slower start to ’22, we’ll take that if we can come away with a trophy’.

“We managed to come away with the trophy but we also managed to start the season with a competitive car compared to all of the other teams…we are sure we were the last team to swap over onto the ’22 car.

“But such was the determination and motivation within the business and the talent, the car that’s been delivered for the drivers this year has been again phenomenal.”

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