Are there too many cooks in the Red Bull kitchen?

Sam Cooper
Christian Horner and Helmut Marko

Both Christian Horner and Helmut Marko may feel they are in charge of the team.

Red Bull are a unique case in Formula 1 when it comes to their management structure.

A look at the company Red Bull Racing on any official website and CEO Christian Horner is clearly identified as the head honcho and yet, dig a little deeper and there is a long-standing power game taking place.

Horner’s role may be the top of the Red Bull Racing tree but in terms of the wider Red Bull group it is now CEO Oliver Mintzlaff who heads up the energy drink’s sporting division.

And then there is Helmut Marko. The 80-year-old was a key factor in the team’s formation almost two decades ago and was rewarded with a vaguely titled ‘motorsport advisor’ role. Marko was even one of those who selected Horner to run the operation and that relationship seemed secure for a long time.

But now, there is disruption.

Rumours of a Marko-Horner power struggle first emerged midway through the 2023 season, with the former’s xenophobic comments in relation to Sergio Perez putting him in the spotlight.

Horner insisted Marko was not an employee at Red Bull Racing and was therefore not under the team principal’s jurisdiction and, when it came to Red Bull GmbH, it appeared Marko had the same sway with Mintzlaff and Mark Mateschitz as he did with the latter’s late father.

Marko survived the incident but whether Horner now comes through his own Red Bull investigation into alleged inappropriate behaviour remains to be seen. Horner strongly denies those claims.

The surfacing of the investigation was also telling. It originated from Dutch media with a source close to the Verstappen camp which began speculation that Jos Verstappen and Marko were behind it. This, of course, has not been proven but it is telling that when the battle lines were drawn, even long-time allies were hesitant to come out in support.

Compare this to when Marko was under pressure and there were reports Max Verstappen would walk away should Marko be given the boot.

But even if the allegations prove to be baseless and Horner’s name is cleared, that relationship between the two men does seem to be strained beyond repair.

Compare it to the other nine constructors on the grid. At each of them, you can point to the leader. Andrea Stella may be McLaren’s team principal but Zak Brown is the CEO above him. Alessandro Alunni Bravi is the team representative of Stake, Andreas Seidl is the CEO above him. James Vowles is Williams team principal, Matthew Savage is the chairman of owners Dorilton Capital above him.

Even at Visa Cash App RB, Peter Bayer is CEO and Laurent Mekies is team principal. recommends

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Yet at Red Bull, you have two men operating in the same space. Marko’s role allows him the freedom to work wherever he pleases while Horner is left with the tasks that come with being a team principal and often the two overlap.

Marko is happy to be the face of the team when he has something to say while also controlling the junior team with an iron fist. Horner, meanwhile, has to do the mandatory press conferences, meetings and PR that comes with being a team principal.

And all of this tension has come at a time when Red Bull are winning. It does pose the question to those behind it: why now? If the Horner investigation is taken as a separate incident, there is still the question to those behind the scenes as to why rock the boat when things are going so well.

One potential answer is ego. If one part sees the other taking credit for the team’s success then they will not be best pleased and vice versa, but the danger of making such a move is it threatens to derail the whole team.

Heading into 2024, you would be hard-pressed to find someone of the opinion that Red Bull will not be a leading contender once again.

22 out of 23 victories the season before means they deserve the tag of favourites but as to when this era will end and who causes it to, it is looking more and more likely it will be Red Bull themselves.

Complacency is killer within a winning organisation but ego can be just as much. Mercedes thought they knew better with their W13 design, even the W14, and it left them vulnerable.

Red Bull’s era, then, may come burning down with some arguing who is in charge of the ashes.

Read next: Would a Christian Horner departure spell the end for Red Bull’s dominant empire?