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Formula 1 United States GP

What’s really going on at the top of Red Bull’s F1 team

Exactly one year on from the passing of Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz, his Formula 1 team has shown no signs of losing any of its brilliance.

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing Helmut Marko, Consultant, Red Bull Racing

While its record-breaking campaign to secure a third consecutive F1 title double has seen it secure more of the same success, there have been big changes behind the scenes at a senior level.   

These shifts were always going to trigger some uncertainties from the outside about new roles and responsibilities – and they perhaps helped this week fuel fresh rumours of potential power struggles at the top of the F1 squad. But is this speculation based on reality? 

New management   

It was inevitable that the tragic departure of someone as influential as Mateschitz would trigger an internal shift in the way things operate – and especially how its F1 squad works with the main company. 

With Mateschitz gone, ownership of the energy drinks company is now divided between his son Mark, who has a 49% stake, and Thai billionaire Chalerm Yoovidhya who has majority control.   

There is also a new CEO in Oliver Mintzlaff, who has got up to speed with the world of F1 having been previously involved in Red Bull’s football activities. 

The changes triggered a review of Red Bull’s F1 activities, which resulted in its full commitment for the future – and a push to evolve and improve AlphaTauri

But as Red Bull arrived at Austin, it has found itself at the centre of media rumours, which originated in Brazil, of a power struggle between Horner and Marko. Suggestions that Horner was trying to engineer Marko’s exit, and of a potential civil war, were quickly shot down by world champion Max Verstappen though. 

Dr Helmut Marko, Red Bull Motorsport Consultant and Dietrich Mateschitz, CEO and Founder of Red Bull

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

Dr Helmut Marko, Red Bull Motorsport Consultant and Dietrich Mateschitz, CEO and Founder of Red Bull

“I saw that from the outside, people are trying to basically talk some BS, because I think the mood in the team is very good,” he said. “Everyone knows exactly what their role is.” 

They say there is no smoke without fire though, and further questions over relationships between the teams’ chiefs were raised after Marko gave some intriguing comments about the rumours.   

“I have a contract until the end of 2024 and in the end it's the shareholders' decision, not Christian Horner's, and in the end it's me who decides,” he told Autosport’s sister site Motorsport-Total.com. 

Those fiery remarks could have been interpreted as confirmation of potential trouble between the pair. However, according to Horner, that’s not a reflection of what’s really going on. 

Corporate treacle   

While the dynamics of Marko’s working role within Red Bull may have changed following the demise of Mateschitz, Horner is clear that the way the two of them work together has hardly altered at all.

“I think one of the downsides of doing a lot of winning is that you get to a point in the year where there's not a lot to write about,” said Horner about the rumours of trouble in the camp. 

“And because we've not been competing, or there's not been a competition with other teams, then it's very easy for others to throw stones. It's amazing how much traction these things seem to get in the new world of social media that we live in.  

“But nothing has changed. Helmut obviously, he's lost his friend and colleague, Dietrich, but he's just as active as he's always been. And I value his input. 

Helmut Marko, Consultant, Red Bull Racing, Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Lionel Ng / Motorsport Images

Helmut Marko, Consultant, Red Bull Racing, Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing

“We speak almost daily, about any major issue that's going on, within the business of F1.    

“So, we've always enjoyed a strong working relationship. And it's always been a strong partnership between the two of us. That hasn't changed.”

Where there are sometimes clear differences between the pair of them, though, is the way that Marko is frequently outspoken – which can sometimes get him in hot water (as witnessed by some recent remarks about Perez) and cause angst with some factions within Red Bull. 

But equally Horner sees value in Marko. Furthermore, he believes he has had – and continues to have – a critical role in ensuring that Red Bull continues to be the fast-reacting racing team it needs to be to stay at the top of F1. 

I think one of the things with Helmut is that he is brutally honest,” said Horner. 

“That is one of the great things about working with him, you know exactly where you stand. We've always enjoyed a strong and close working relationship. 

“I think through his relationship with Dietrich, that gave us, and gave me, the freedom to get on and run the business. It avoided being bogged down by corporate treacle. 

“We were able to maintain the essence of operating like a race team, making fast and decisive decisions, which we continue to do, but just in a slightly different way.  

“Rather than going through one guy to the chairman, there's now a slightly broader conversation that involves the shareholders.” 

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Shareholder support   

While the changes since Mateschitz’s passing may mean the reporting structure is different, in dealing with the board and Mintzlaff, Horner says things are working just as well as before. 

“When we've needed to act swiftly or decisively, they've absolutely done that - whether it was on the acquisition of a building or a decision that needed to be done quickly,” he said.   

“From a team point of view, in our world, nothing has fundamentally changed. For Red Bull Racing, nothing's really changed, we're still going about our business and getting on with the job in hand.  

“Of course, for AlphaTauri, there's been a bit more of a change where there's an absolute commitment from the shareholders that they didn't want to sell the team. 

“So there's been a management restructure there that perhaps aligns it more closely with Red Bull Racing to make best use of the synergies that are permissible within the framework of the regulations.”  

Good cop/bad cop 

What is important to understand is that, while Horner and Marko are different personalities, organisations actually thrive from not having identical people in senior positions. 

Red Bull has benefited at times from this almost good cop/bad cop make-up among its senior staff – and in some ways this has helped Horner too. 

“We are very different people in many respects, but we're very similar in others: in the passion that we have for the team and the desire to win and the commitment to win,” he said.  

“But everything evolves. And if I look at Red Bull Racing today, compared to where it was, or Red Bull's involvement in F1 compared to where we came into the sport, it’s changed a lot.

“We were just over 400 people when Red Bull acquired Jaguar, now we're upwards of 1600 people across the entire group. It is a big business and it's evolved. I look at the role that I'm doing now compared to when I started – it's way more than I was doing in 2005.” 

David Coulthard, Red Bull Racing RB01

Photo by: Sutton Images

David Coulthard, Red Bull Racing RB01

Horner senses no alarm from the way Red Bull’s organisation has adapted to the change over the past 12 months – and believes he personally has exactly what is needed to keep the team marching forwards.   

“As Red Bull continues to be successful in its own right in their mainstream business, so I've had the freedom and autonomy to get on, which is so important in F1,” he said. 

“It’s one of the reasons why we've been so successful over the last 20 years or so. We've got tremendous support. We're investing in a new wind tunnel, which has been signed off by both shareholders.  

“We're investing in the facilities and the campus to make it a real technology campus to attract and develop talent.   

“So, nothing has changed, the commitment is absolute: our strength and our depth has always been our people. And I believe we've got the strongest technical group that we've ever had. 

“I think operationally we're strong. I don't see any weaknesses in the organisation. I think that doesn't mean that we can't get better. You can always improve and you're always learning, but I think Red Bull Racing is in the best shape it has ever been.” 

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