Modern Man: Christian Horner Interview
In a new series we will be looking at a select number of modern men who have become institutions in their respective fields. Whether that be fashion, technology, film, or of course sport.
To start off the series we caught up with none other that Christian Horner whilst we were out at the Hungarian Grand Prix during the summer. As the team boss of Infiniti Red Bull Racing, he has helped transform the teams fortunes in recent years, making them the team to beat in F1 with another individual and team championship under the belt in 2013. We talk about drivers, technology and miniature donkeys…
Being an ex-racing driver and programmed to be a winner, was it a difficult decision to leave racing as a driver go into a more management based position?
No, not really. I felt in my racing career I had reached the level of my talent and I was racing against some great drivers like Juan Pablo Montoya, Nick Heidfeld and Tom Kristensen and I recognised, and I was honest with myself that I wasn’t at their level. I was OK, but there were lots of drivers that were OK. I had grown up in the industry and I had started a team to drive for myself because it was the most cost effective way of going racing and then almost by accident I fell into team management.
Does having the experience on track give you an advantage over other management, knowing the potential stress and rigours put on racing drivers?
I think it’s a useful experience to have had because you experienced it, albeit in a lesser way, the emotions and some of the pressures that the drivers go through, so you can relate to what their saying and what their doing / requesting from the team. When you are sitting in the car it is a pretty lonely environment, and when you’re looking out you need to feel you have got the support and backing of the whole team around you. So for me it was a very useful experience having driven for some good teams and some not so good teams. So when I built a team I owned in the lower categories, I built it how I would have liked to have driven for a team and certainly when I came to Infiniti Red Bull I kept those basic principles and it’s very much a people business, a people sport. About having the right people in the right positions and empowering them to do their job.
With Mark leaving, what where the qualities of your next driver you were looking for before taking on Daniel Ricciardo? Does Mark leaving the team mean there are gaps to fill?
Well sure, first of all he has to be fast, he has to be the fastest driver we can put in the car (interrupts, do you want someone to be as fast as Seb?). Yes, ultimately I want to push Seb, push him very hard. We want, we will give both guys the same chance and we want the fastest pairing we can have and then within that it’s a team battle and it’s down to what they do on the track and anything else. It’s the constructors championship which is the main interest of the team in terms of that’s where the money is distributed so I think we want someone that is quick, someone that is able to provide good feedback, that will be a team player and that will put everything into the team that we expect. And thankfully with the results we have had were not short of potential choices.
You are obviously the face of Infiniti Red Bull racing, but Adrian Newey is pretty much a god in the sport, how important has he been to the sport over the last few years?
He is a key element of the team, he is a conductor of the technical group, a dinosaur in many ways in how he operates because he still draws, still very much involved in the design and philosophy of the car with the 200 odd engineers that are working beneath him. So yes he is a key element of the of what we do and what we have achieved.
For you personally, away from racing what do you do to relax and wind down?
I live in the countryside, I enjoy spending time at home, I have a lot of animals…
(interrupts) What is the weirdest animal you own?
Well I have got two miniature donkeys (LAUGHS).
(interrupts) There is actually an animal called a Zonkey which is a cross between a zebra and a donkey (LAUGHS), so you could get one of those?
I will have to look into that.. So yeah, my partner she is the one left at home to look after them, but it is fun, you know Formula One is such a mad world and environment that when you go home it’s good to get back to basics sometimes.
Outside of motorsport, if you had to choose to go with a drink personally, would it be Mark or Seb?
Well Sebastien probably couldn’t get served, he isn’t old enough to get in a pub (LAUGHS) and Mark doesn’t drink so they would both be fairly hopeless.
It’s a different atmosphere at Red Bull, we were walking into the garage and music is so loud it nearly resembles more of a club. Where does that atmosphere come from? Is it from you? And do you ever get to choose the music?
Er, no they wouldn’t go with my music and my iPod that’s for sure. They move it round each weekend, and there is a playlist that the guys contribute to, and the philosophy of what we do is, our guys work harder than any other team in the pit lane and we try and create an atmosphere that is fun, that is vibrant, that is full of life. And we are not the best neighbours obviously with Ferrari next door…
Have they asked you to turn it down?
Occasionally we have asked, but they have given up now. But they (Ferrari) are much better neighbours than McLaren, they were much more conservative, you know. But it adds to the vibe and the energy that they need and it’s important to have that atmosphere that is relaxed but focussed.
And a very last question quickly. Does the champagne on the podium actually taste any good?
Erm, well it does when you’ve won. Even when it’s Rose Water in Bahrain or Abu Dhabi it’s still, whatever it is it tastes good.
A special thanks must go to Infiniti for inviting us to Budapest and setting up this interview. Well done to Christian (and the team) for wrapping another constructors championship and Seb with the world title.
Look out during the coming weeks for our next instalment of Modern Man, and if there is someone you think we should profile, let us know below.