Exclusive: Horner on Red Bull’s success, believing in Perez and why 2024 will be closer

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Having just celebrated his 50th birthday, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has reached an age where most team principals would only just be starting their tenures as the leaders of their teams.

In fact, given that the average age of the ten men in charge of Formula 1’s teams when the 2023 season began was 53, Horner was and remains one of the younger team principals on the grid.

But as Horner enters his sixth decade, he does so already as one of the very few most successful team principals in Formula 1 history. Over 110 grand prix victories, 95 pole positions, 264 podiums, seven drivers’ world championships and six constructors’ titles – every single one achieved under Horner’s stewardship.

When RaceFans joined Horner in the Yas Marina paddock during the final grand prix weekend of the season, it was at the crescendo of a year in which his Red Bull team had not just broken new ground by their own incredibly high standards of success, but achieved the most dominant season in the sport’s history. With 20 wins from 21 grands prix – with the 21st to follow that same weekend – and a hoard of new all-time records set along the way from championship points total to overall laps led and more, it was an unimaginable year for the champions.

So sitting across from Horner after a year in which his team and world champion driver, Max Verstappen, have once again rewritten the record books, it seems fitting to ask – how much is Red Bull’s success down to him?

“That’s not really for me to answer,” he says, immediately looking to avoid taking an undue level of credit.

“I’ve run and operated this team as I would have done my own team and I take a great responsibility for the people that are here – the team that’s been built here and the culture that we have. But it’s not just about me. It’s about all the people within the team and the key players within the team. And it’s about exactly that, working as a team.

“I’ve always been a great believer in getting the best group of people, but then not telling them how to do their jobs. There’s no point in me telling Adrian [Newey, designer] how to design a car or Pierre [Wache, technical director] how to build a car or operate a car, or to Max how to drive it. It’s about getting the right people in the right roles and providing the right environment for them to thrive.”

It’s easy to forget that Horner himself was a driver, long ago. Rising up to Formula 3000 level – equivalent to Formula 2 today – he is far from a purely business-minded leader. And he says this has an impact on how he leads his team compared to many of his peers.

“I’m a racer,” he says. “I think the function that I perform within the team is a bit more hands-on than perhaps some of the others, particularly on the pit wall.

“I’m very much involved in the operation of the race in terms of the strategy and so on. So I see it as I’m the team principal of a F1 team for what will be 24 weekends next year, and I’m the CEO of a high performing technology company for 52 weeks from Monday to Friday.”

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As much as Red Bull’s unprecedented success can be accredited to the wealth of talent that Red Bull have across every level of their organisation, it’s impossible to ignore how Verstappen’s exploits in the car over the last three years have been critical. With 43 wins from 66 grands prix over the last three seasons and back-to-back-to-back world titles, no driver has arguably enjoyed a run of success like the 26-year-old world champion has before. No wonder Horner signed him until the end of the 2028 season at the start of last year.

But with Verstappen being so candid about envisioning a life beyond Formula 1, rather than just competing into his forties like fellow champions Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and eventually Lewis Hamilton will, what does Horner expect his world champion driver to do in the future?

“Who knows?,” he admits. “I mean at 26, obviously he’s still got quite a few years left in him. But he’ll go as long as he wants to and his motivation is there.

“I think he’s very strong in his own mind. I don’t think he’ll be driving when he’s 42 in F1. But that’s 18 years away or 16 years away from where he is now. So I think he’s going to take things one season at a time.”

Despite winning more frequently than any other driver in history, it is Verstappen’s continuous growth as a driver which Horner says is one of the most impressive things about the world champion.

“I think you’re always learning,” Horner says. “And I think he’s the same.

“He’s like a sponge – he just soaks it up, and he applies it. And he’s just hungry for information. He wants that knowledge, and then he applies it.”

But while Verstappen has soaked up all he can and then applied that knowledge into an almost unstoppable run of form, the team’s other driver, Sergio Perez, appears to have become the latest Verstappen team mate to have been mentally broken by his inability to match the champion, weekend to weekend. Perez admitted that following the Qatar Grand Prix, he took a week’s break to try and mentally reset himself following the championship formally falling out of his grasp.

“I think that was very important for him,” Horner explains. “Because we know what he’s capable of and we weren’t seeing the best Sergio.

“What we saw at the beginning of the year – if you think back to Azerbaijan and Saudi and Bahrain and the early-season races – he was phenomenal. Even in Monza, he drove a great race. But then that first batch of flyaways all started to fall apart for him. And a lot less of a driver would have crumbled under that pressure and expectation. But he brushed himself down, he worked hard. He came and embedded himself in the simulator with his engineers. And I think the turn of the season, he really picked up and drove some great races.”

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At the end of his first two seasons at Red Bull, Perez has insisted he would return to start the upcoming season better than ever and be a real force in the fight for the championship. Heading into 2024, following three years of Perez being soundly beaten to the title by Verstappen, how will Horner manage the relationship between his two drivers?

“I think it’s just a matter of him being realistic with himself,” Horner says of Perez. “We know what Checo’s capable of, he know what the expectations are – and he’s driving against a generational talent. And that is tough. That’s very tough. But he gets exactly the same opportunity afforded to him as Max. He’s aware of that. And I think that we just need to see him operating at a more consistent level throughout next year across 24 races.”

But does Horner truly believe Perez has that capability within him? “Oh, I think he can do that,” he insists.

“With the form that Max is in, currently you can see he’s unstoppable,” he continues. “But then you have to be realistic in your own objectives. And I think Checo knows what those objectives are.”

With the revival of Daniel Ricciardo’s career, slotting back into Red Bull’s junior F1 team previously known as AlphaTauri, there was plenty of speculation about whether Perez’s seat was in peril for 2024 – despite him being contracted through the end of next season.

“From you guys, yes,” Horner interjects, speaking of the media. “Not one conversation internally. It was just your lot that were having some column inches to fill, I think.

“It’s great to have Daniel back in the fold and he’s doing a good job at AlphaTauri. And of course, what we’ve really got an eye on is what is our best foot forward for 2025.”

Beyond their driver line-up, Red Bull have even bigger matters to worry about for the years ahead. When 2026 arrives, so too will the next generation of power units. And, for the first time, Red Bull will be running their very own power units that they themselves have designed and manufactured – joining their rivals Ferrari and Mercedes as complete manufacturers with Red Bull Powertrains with support from Ford.

“It’s the biggest challenge that Red Bull has faced in designing and building its own engine,” Horner admits. “So that for us is huge.

“Taking a start-up company and taking on the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari and Honda and Renault and Audi. With Ford’s support, it’s going to be a massive, massive challenge. And we don’t underestimate that. I both relish the chance and the opportunity.”

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But until the next major rules changes in 2026, there are two more seasons still to come – and two more chances to add to Red Bull’s growing collection of world championships. However, despite the relative ease his team appears to have had over the last two years, Horner is adamant that there will be tougher times to follow – as early as next season.

“I think for sure there’s going to be more competition,” he insists. “We’ve seen the competitive field moving around behind us. One week it’s Ferrari, one week it’s McLaren, one minute it’s Mercedes. And I think that will naturally converge, and I don’t think we’ll be sitting here having won 20 grands prix next year.

“It’s been the most successful season in the history of the sport. It’s the most successful grand prix car ever. So I think for us to get anywhere near that is unlikely in a consistent set of regulations. McLaren have looked strong, I think Ferrari have looked strong. Mercedes had the odd flash here and there but haven’t really showed anything sustained, for a two-year period now. But they’re a great team. They’ll come back strong, I’m sure.”

Every era of sustained success in Formula 1 eventually comes to an end. Whether it’s Ferrari, Mercedes or this current age of Red Bull. But this is the second time that Horner has experienced total and absolute dominance over the sport after Sebastian Vettel’s championship run in the early 2010s. But after a year of such sustained success as 2023, surely among all the pride and the satisfaction of seeing hard work paying off so handsomely, there must be a slightly nagging thought that this is the best it can ever get? That there’s every chance Red Bull and Horner will never climb to such heights again in the future?

“You just never know,” says one of the sport’s most successful ever team principals.

“You never lose sight of what the target is, and you never stop believing, you never stop. Because the moment you do that, you should stop.”

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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24 comments on “Exclusive: Horner on Red Bull’s success, believing in Perez and why 2024 will be closer”

  1. Great article, well written Will, Claire.

    I’m aware Christian gets a lot of ire from detractors on here, and I’m also aware that some of that ire is warranted. However, personally, I like him as a person and as a team principal. He’s good for the sport, usually doesn’t take himself too seriously and reminds me very much of Ron Dennis in the way he carries himself. I always appreciate articles like these that give a slightly more human glimpse into people we usually only see offering corporate-aware answers in front of cameras.

    1. Ultimately a lot of Horner’s success is down to his skill as a politician, which is a reflection of the era of F1 we find ourselves in now. As with all politicians, that makes him very popular with some people, but also very unpopular with many others whose political interests are different. The same is true of Toto Wolff, who is an equally competent politician and just as polarising, for exactly the same reasons.

      1. @red-andy

        Name me a period of time F1 wasn’t about politics?
        F1 = politics. It’s part of what makes it so attractive as a sport to people.

    2. Coventry Climax
      29th December 2023, 1:26

      Fully agree with what you say here.

      Thanks Will and Claire, very nice indeed.

  2. Ugh, I’m already sick of hearing about Perez can turn it around for 2024. Why couldn’t they just put him out of his misery? That break clause must be expensive (the sponsor loss part – I assume they’re not paying a lot).

    1. When the England cricket team is playing badly (which is often), it is often said that the best way to stake your claim for a place in the team is to not be picked for it. I think the same is probably true of the second Red Bull seat – whoever the incumbent is, they will always look hopelessly out of their depth, but the reality is that there are few people who would do any better.

      There aren’t really any viable alternatives to Perez at the moment. Red Bull know what Ricciardo is capable of, and clearly it’s not enough to persuade them that he would be an upgrade on Perez (although he is presumably the next cab off the rank). Tsunoda hasn’t shown anything like the required level of promise, Lawson is still largely an unknown quantity, and none of the other juniors seem like they’re kicking the door down for a promotion to F1, never mind in a Red Bull.

      1. On top of that, the WCC is achievable with Perez and it doesn’t upset the nr1 driver having Perez around. So, overall a bit boring but no option nor reason to go with someone else…. Until things get more competitive for whatever reason and Max cant compensate for Perez again demonstrating to be of insufficient value in such scenario (in which you need at least a ‘Bottas bring it home in second’ level).

        1. Additionally, Daniel won’t threaten Max, but he’ll stop Horner from having to answer the same tiresome questions weak in and weak out about when Checo is getting the boot and why he’s so incompetent.

      2. Ricciardo would certainly do better. After all, he edged Max on cumulative stats over a period of three seasons. He also loves the same setup and car characteristics as Max while Checo hates how Max sets up his car and having a point car and has crumpled under the pressure to boot. So, it’s pretty ridiculous to say, no one could or would do better. Since Daniel, Max has been paired with quasi rookies and a journeyman driver who was neck and neck with the same two teammates than Ricciardo crushed.

        1. That sounds right on paper, but somehow I think that is linked to a time too long ago. Daniel has not improved since and Max has massively and still grows.

  3. Coventry Climax
    29th December 2023, 1:31

    One week it’s Ferrari, one week it’s McLaren, one minute it’s Mercedes.

    I know it won’t go down well for some here, but I can see the humour of it – and the reality. Plus, he explains it very well later on.

    1. Hard to fault such a subtle dig. Well played haha

    2. Indeed quite a dig and an important one. He clearly doesn’t view Ferrari as the main threat as they are first and this list is clearly in descending order of threat if Mercedes is last and has 1 second compared to a full week.

      I find that interesting because Ferrari has outscored Mercedes once you combine 2022 and 2023 but like all of us, he feels that Ferrari will find a way to beat themselves out of the championship even if they have the quickest car all season.

      It’s noteworthy that he finds McLaren a bigger threat than Ferrari. I think that’s high praise for Norris and Piastri.

      For sure the insulting and demeaning statement for Mercedes showcases that he’s as terrified of Mercedes making a comeback as Max is terrified of seeing Lewis close to his car.

      If Mercedes can reach P2 in one second in Horner’s opinion, what does that say about its drivers vis-a-vis Red Bull’s who had the whole season to perform instead of 1 second and what Mercedes could manage with 2 seconds, let alone a full week?

      1. Do you think Mercedes would have been at least as fast as the Ferrari at the beginning of the ground effect rules if they didn’t go down the zeropod route?

      2. Coventry Climax
        30th December 2023, 17:32


        Your logic is at best based on conclusions that can’t be drawn from what Horners says, but that you jump to nonetheless.

        He clearly states he believes that for the coming seasons, things will converge, but that last season, there was no clear second best team. (Which is, in my opinion, what saved Perez, by the way.)

        There’s no ‘order of threats’ or ‘terrifying’ developments mentioned at all.
        That’s a pretty big thumb your having, and no, it wasn’t someone of Red Bull with a hammer.

        I much prefer this bit of humor from Horner over Wolff’s trademark desk and headset slamming.

        1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
          31st December 2023, 3:52

          @coventry climax well it’s all based on assumptions, right? But still the fact that he put Mercedes last and then qualified it with a minute compared to a week for the other 2 teams shows some insecurity and/or deep-rooted rivalry?

          1. Coventry Climax
            31st December 2023, 10:56

            No it doesn’t.

  4. Very good article and good insights. Thank you.

  5. Yes, great article. Thank you.

  6. This is the most important sentence in the interview:

    And I think that will naturally converge, and I don’t think we’ll be sitting here having won 20 grands prix next year

    If Horner is saying this, he is expecting Red Bull to win more than 20 grand prix… They’ve been sandbagging the whole year as we all suspected.

    Here’s the 2nd most important sentence

    But he [Checo] gets exactly the same opportunity afforded to him as Max

    Note how he says opportunity as opposed to car or engine… Nice distinction Christian! He’s amazing, no doubt about that.

    1. Coventry Climax
      30th December 2023, 17:37

      Like I said; based on conclusions that can’t be drawn.


  7. The gaps between the teams will decrease, but Red Bulls advantage in 23 was so big I can’t see anyone overtaking them. Especially as the cars are likely to be finessed evolutions on 23 instead of revolutionary. Mercedes might change much more fundamentally but I doubt they want to go through the relearning process of a completely new design. If that is so Christian sounds increasingly likely Toto did when Mercedes clearly has a lot more pace in their car to deploy when needed.

    1. We can only hope that RB will hit some sort of development ceiling and the rest make some
      more gains like McLaren and Aston Martin achieved this year.

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