Life comes at you fast in Formula 1, and I guess that’s the point. But has anything changed as quickly as Christian Horner’s fortunes?
Perhaps the only consolation for him in this dirty, Machiavellian story is that he was in the right place: if you’re going to be involved in a car accident, a racetrack is as good a place as any.
The sport’s capacity for mischief would indicate that another uproar is soon to follow, but there are aspects of this extraordinary saga that seem absolutely unparalleled in the scandal genre.
They are the aspects that may not be maintained or endure as long as the sordid details of those exchanges, but will persist in other ways. Aspects that reveal much more than the photos and phrases that we may have seen at this point.
I’m thinking about the reason. Not Horner’s motive, which seems pretty self-explanatory unless it is ever established that the messages are fake, but rather the people in the shadows’ motive.
The saga of Christian Horner and Geri Halliwell has caused an explosion in sport and entertainment
Horner faced accusations of inappropriate behavior but was cleared by a Red Bull investigation.
Despite the scandal, Horner’s wife was by his side on Saturday at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The conspirators who tried to take him down. The viciousness with which they have acted against his career, his marriage, his reputation in sport and in life and, most likely, his ability to walk down the street without causing laughter.
Can any of this be attributed to those inside the Red Bull tent? We’ve learned it’s a pretty toxic place, with Horner and Dr. Helmut Marko, Red Bull’s octogenarian motorsport director, feuding and Jos Verstappen, Max’s father, denying to friends that he was now plotting against Horner.
We can’t say for sure where all this came from or how many were involved in the mysterious email that arrived at 6:14 pm on Thursday. But what a volcano that was. For the explosion of Vesuvius in 79 AD, see 79 screenshots from the heart of a saga that has fascinated almost as many people as it excited.
Whoever helped the complainant in her complaint against Horner’s behavior will know how far this story would go.
You will have known that the combination of Horner, the profile of his wife, Geri Halliwell, and the inevitable interest in a high-profile scandal made this a sporting and showbiz explosion for the ages. Regardless, it’s fair to say that we may have learned a lot about Horner, but a hell of a lot more about the traitorous savagery of Formula 1.
None of which should be confused with an expression of sympathy or condemnation of Horner: the facts of his case are still too gray to say anything with absolute, legally sound confidence in that space.
For his part, Horner has not directly referred to the WhatsApp messages, although he has denied all accusations.
Horner has denied all allegations, but Formula One’s treacherous savagery has been laid bare.
For some in F1, Horner’s embarrassment has been something to savor and enjoy. The image is miserable
But what we do know is that his embarrassment is the greatest any individual in his sport has experienced since details of Max Mosley’s trips to certain basements became public.
For many in F1 who speak of Horner’s penchant for political chicanery and farce, the embarrassment has been something to savor and enjoy. It really is such a sordid picture from every angle.
In time we will know how all this plays out for Horner, his reputation and the sporting certainties that have accompanied his long reign at Red Bull Racing.
But before those are resolved, we might also ask some questions about the independent investigation conducted by the team that concluded it was OK to continue working. More specifically, it would be helpful to know some of the steps they took in the process of appointing counsel and how the final decision was reached once their findings were received.
This week I spoke to a leading figure in Formula 1 who has experience in this type of investigation and it was interesting to hear how flexible the term “independent” can be.
Based on our discussion, it will usually be the case that the attorney produces an executive summary of a more comprehensive report and that the language of that summary can be discussed with those who commissioned it. From there, the tone could be softened, altered in subtle and possibly profound ways.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is among those demanding transparency from Red Bull
It would be generous to trust anything in a sport whose reputation is far from clean.
There’s nothing to suggest Red Bull did anything like that or anything wrong, but it’s also the kind of scenario that leaves room for doubt.
Toto Wolff, the boss of Mercedes, is among many who have called for more transparency. And no doubt everyone asked between bites of popcorn from the Bahrain pitlane. His agenda, his taste for this, is obvious, but it is important to establish whether Red Bull gave a favorable note to his own duties.
They would not be the first sports or business organization to do so in the face of an uncomfortable complaint. Oh my god, no. But at this point, when so much information has come to light about Formula One’s penchant for ancient Roman practices, a little more peace of mind would be helpful.
A little more proof indeed. Any fact.
Taking anything on blind faith at this stage would be an extreme act of generosity. It would be a case of not paying enough attention to a sport whose reputation was never remotely clean, but whose capacity for filth seems to have been underestimated.
MARCUS’S SELF-INFLICTED HANGOVER
I greatly admire Marcus Rashford and I suppose many of us do. But I found some of his comments a little jarring this week.
They addressed the topic of his commitment to Manchester United through a passionate essay published by The Players Tribune. As he put it: “It’s like someone is questioning everything I stand for as a man.”
I would never doubt the caliber of his personality, his actions to help others during the pandemic told us enough about it. Nor would I ask what it cost him to get to where he is.
I also think some of the reaction to his infamous night in Belfast was excessive, which motivated his response.
But it’s still worth reiterating something about that last one: like all hangovers, it was mostly self-inflicted.
Marcus Rashford’s recent comments were jarring. Like hangovers, it was mostly self-inflicted.
QUESTIONS HANG OVER AJ
Anthony Joshua will fight mixed martial artist Francis Ngannou on Friday and it is tempting to suggest that the former world heavyweight champion will be finished should he lose.
It is also tempting to suggest that such thoughts are too serious for a contest that, by its very nature, has given up the right to sensible conversations.