HE LIVES A high-octane life in the fast lane but Christian Horner claims he is happiest away from the ‘madness’ of Formula 1. Married to pop star Geri Halliwell and tipped as the next supremo of the world’s most glamorous sport, the team principal of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing likes to escape the pit lane on his sprawling Cotswolds farm.
Walking around the stunning estate near Banbury, it’s easy to understand why. Horner is currently putting the finishing touches to renovation works on his cavernous garage and indoor swimming pool. Builders are fluttering around the restored outbuildings and there’s a menagerie of animals to care for, too.
Among them is a West Highland terrier called Bernie, in honour of Horner’s mentor and former CEO of F1, Bernie Ecclestone. “We have four dogs, miniature donkeys, goats, Geri’s horses and a couple of canaries called Donald and Hillary. The latter formed an unlikely friendship and mated!”
Nearby, Horner’s two-year-old son Monty is hurtling around on a toy tractor, while Halliwell’s 13-year-old daughter, Bluebell Madonna, helps to groom Geri’s horse, Beauty. Horner says he has tried horse riding but remains far more interested in horsepower.
“I have two Minis, one belonged to Paul McCartney and the other to Ringo Starr. Geri bought me a Willys jeep as a birthday present and my everyday drive is an Aston Martin DBS, which I love. I also have a classic DB5, which I bought as a present to myself when I turned 40.”
I don’t mind being in the limelight on a Grand Prix weekend but not the rest of the time
There are other ‘secret’ cars which are kept firmly under wraps but I can certainly make out the distinctive shape of a Ferrari. At the far end of the building is a red MGB roadster, which dates back to 1965.
“It’s a convertible Geri bought with her first pay cheque from the Spice Girls. I had to track it down and buy the car back. It’s exactly as it was when she sold it – with a Spice Girls tape in the cassette deck and matching keyring.”
However, pride of place goes to a vintage Massey Ferguson tractor, which Horner had restored. “I think that has rubbed off on my son. Monty is obsessed with his toy digger – you have to watch your ankles around here.”
Horner has always been fascinated with cars. Growing up, his father and grandfather ran a successful car component company together in the West Midlands. “There were always lots of interesting motors around. Dad owned a Reliant Scimitar GTE, a Triumph Stag and lots of Jags. Mum drove an Alpine. At one point she had a Triumph Herald, too. We always encouraged her to get airborne over a humped-back bridge on the school run.”
When he was 12, Horner plagued his parents to buy him a go-kart. “We found one in a local paper for £60 but it had slick tyres and no grip on grass. Dad took me to an old airfield track to have a go – it was the first time that I realised go-karts could be raced. From that moment onwards I was totally hooked – I wanted to be a racing driver.”
Horner began his career racing karts and then went into Formula Renault, Formula Three and Formula Two. “I did well but there came a point at 25 when I realised I didn’t have enough to make it to the very top. That’s when I decided to focus on running my own team, Arden, and let someone else do the driving.”
The Horner home is full of memorabilia. A snooker room in one of the outbuildings is plastered with pop posters from Geri’s career and motorsport trophies. In the loo is a Time Out cover of the Spice Girls, plus a framed copy of ‘Your Song’ by Elton John, played at the couple’s wedding in 2015.
Horner looks relaxed in white shirt and jeans, wearing a Tag Heuer Carrera Calibre 16, one of the many in his collection. “I don’t mind being in the limelight on a Grand Prix weekend but not the rest of the time. We’ve lived here for about four years and it’s become the perfect home to relax and get away from it all.”
When Horner joined fledgling Red Bull in 2005 at the age of 31, he was the youngest boss in the pit lane. “It was a big moment in my life but also felt like a natural progression. All the principles that served me well building my Formula 3000 team I applied to Formula 1.
It was very, very difficult losing Daniel. He was the perfect fit for Red Bull and I didn’t understand his decision to move
“At the end of the day, people are your biggest asset – the right technicians, engineers and drivers. I was a big Adrian Newey fan (chief technical officer at Red Bull) and when he left McLaren to join us, people stood up and took notice. If you are going to shoot for the stars, you need somebody like Adrian. Persuading him to sign with us was a major step forward.”
The Red Bull team finished strongly in 2009 and then won the Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships in 2010 with Sebastien Vettel and Mark Webber. The team went on to win the coveted constructors’ championship four years in a row.
“When we won that first championship I bought an Aston Martin Vantage. It was the first real present I had afforded myself. The V12 is a fantastic car to drive, loads of power and it also sounds amazing.”
Since 2013, Red Bull has struggled to keep up with the pace of all-conquering Mercedes and the dominance of Lewis Hamilton. At the end of last season, they also lost driver Daniel Ricciardo to Renault.
“It was very, very difficult losing Daniel. If I take my Red Bull hat off, he is a friend. He was the perfect fit for Red Bull and I didn’t understand his decision to make the move to Renault. He grew up with Red Bull and had no idea what life would be like outside that world.
“I think he was quite surprised when Mercedes and Ferrari didn’t come calling, then Renault made him a significant offer. His decision demonstrated how keen he was to try something else and take a risk. It will be interesting to see what he thinks of that decision at the end of the season.”
Horner is, perhaps, naturally guarded about his thoughts on Hamilton. “Lewis is an enigma. A wonderful, gifted driver. He’s a total natural and his achievements in the sport are phenomenal. He’s very much a Marmite character – people love him, or loathe him. I have huge respect for what he has done, the talent he has and his achievements.”
Still only 45 and with four world championships to his name, Horner has long been touted as the next Bernie Ecclestone, taking the helm of Formula One when he eventually steps back from team management.
“It’s very flattering when people make that connection. At the moment, I very much enjoy the competitive side of my career. I’m really focussed on wanting to achieve more with Red Bull and getting us back to a winning situation. Nobody has a crystal ball, ten years down the road I might feel differently.”
FE has its place but I don’t think it will compete because F1 is escapism in many respects.
Horner is absolutely certain about who was the best driver ever. “The one that has stood out for me is Ayrton Senna. I did meet him, when I was a young kart racer. I snuck under the fence at Silverstone on a test day and hung about at the back of his garage.
“He spotted my karting jacket and came over for a chat. He was so enthused about karting, very polite and interested in what I was doing. There was an aura around him – a special moment I shall always remember.”
There are no electric or hybrid cars in Horner’s garage and he doesn’t believe Formula E will ever challenge F1 for popularity. “FE has its place but I don’t think it will compete because F1 is escapism in many respects. It is modern-day chariot racing.
“FE will end up with autonomous cars and no need for a driver, if it follows through to a natural conclusion. F1 is madness but it is the purest entertainment in the world, man and machine at the absolute limit.”
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