Horner on Wolff’s ‘smashing, pointing and ranting' - leading by fear not healthy

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has accused his counterpart Toto Wolff of leading Mercedes “by fear” during the 2021 F1 season. 
(L to R): Toto Wolff (GER)
(L to R): Toto Wolff (GER)

Horner and Mercedes boss Wolff regularly spared off-track amid last year’s intense, season-long title battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, culminating with the controversial 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Wolff was seen smashing up a pair of headphones in Saudi Arabia and pointing at the camera in Brazil to vent his frustration as the championship neared its dramatic climax. 

Remote video URL

Speaking on The Diary Of a CEO with Steven Bartlett, Horner said Wolff’s behaviour was an example of bad management and showed that Red Bull got under his skin. 

“The Brits are quite good at that, keeping a stiff-upper lip, head down and get on with it,” Horner said when asked how he controls his passion to stop his emotions boiling over. 

"For me, last year’s world championship was very much about that. It was a titanic battle, not just between the two drivers on track but the two teams off track. 

“The person you are gauging yourself [against] and are pitched against as team principal is your opposite number. It’s a mental game as much as it’s a physical activity as well. 

Christian Horner (GBR) Red Bull Racing Team Principal on the grid. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Singapore Grand
Christian Horner (GBR) Red Bull Racing Team Principal on the grid. Formula…

“It was the first time that team, in a seven or eight-year period, had come under any form of pressure. I think that’s when you see people’s true personalities and what they’ve really got when they are under pressure. 

“When you see your counterpart smashing up headphones and pointing and ranting at cameras, you know you’ve got to them. 

“And you know that if they are venting in such a way, and feeling that pressure, that the people below them are going to be off-loaded onto as well - that they are going to be on the receiving end of that. In my experience, that causes people to tighten up. 

“I remember before the race in Abu Dhabi, getting all the guys together and saying: ‘look, whatever happens today is going to happen. All we can do is do the best that we can do today and the most important thing is to be proud of what you’ve achieved to get to this position that we’re fighting for this world championship, that we’ve taken it all the way to the wire, and most of all, enjoy it. Enjoy this experience. Whatever the outcome is going to be, we don’t know but let’s go in there with an approach of give it everything, enjoy it and embrace it’. 

“And in the end, it paid off. I think that as a leader, how you conduct yourself permeates throughout a business. So if you’re feeling the tension and passing that on, then for me, that’s not a healthy way to lead a team by fear. 

"You want it to be inclusive, you want it to be open, you want people to feel that they’ve got a voice and that that voice will be heard, rather than being afraid to speak up for fear of getting their head taken off.”

Red Bull had 'more desire' to win 

Horner on Wolff’s ‘smashing, pointing and ranting' - leading by fear not healthy

Horner stressed he was always confident Red Bull would triumph against Mercedes last season due to a combination of Verstappen’s performances and his team having “more desire” to win. 

“Performance is always cyclical,” Horner explained. 

“Mercedes went through a long winning spree, certainly longer than we did, and at some point that was always going to come to and end, whether it’s through complacency or whatever causes that. And I wanted to make sure that we were the team on the upward graph to capitalise on any sign of weakness. 

“There are several components; one of course is the driver and the driver played a key role in that Max Verstappen, emerging as this as this exciting, determined character. You will not meet a more determined personality or driver with more commitment and passion than Max. 

“And the team just having this inner-belief and pushing all of the boundaries, operating at a level that was taking us out of our comfort zone. Whether that be record-breaking pit stops, aggressive strategies, taking calculated risks, with very much an attitude of ‘we’ve got nothing to lose’. 

“In the end I think it came down to desire - that there was more desire and the way we applied ourselves as a team, under massive pressure, and we dealt with that pressure in a very together manner.”

Read More