Feisty Christian Horner pokes fun at Abiteboul, Ocon and F1 politics

ABU DHABI — Christian Horner was in a mischievous mood on Friday.

Speaking at the final F1 press conference of the season ahead of the season finale, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the Red Bull boss took a few digs at two of his counterparts and frequent sparring partners who joined him at the table. He also compared the job facing F1 CEO Chase Carey to the one facing British prime minister Theresa May, who is currently trying to navigate the nation through ‘Brexit’, the controversial process of leaving the European Union.

Renault

His first shot was at Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul, who was sat next to him. Horner and Abiteboul have clashed frequently in the past over Renault’s problems to master the V6 turbo engine regulations, which Red Bull feels has cost them any chance of challenging for a championship since 2014.

Those frustrations culminated this year in Red Bull deciding to end its long-running partnership with Renault and switch to Honda power next year. Red Bull is also losing driver Daniel Ricciardo to the French manufacturer in 2019.

When he was reminded of that fact, Horner said: “Yeah, it’s slightly awkward, because I’m sitting next to Cyril who is taking both elements back after the weekend. I’ll start with Renault.

“It’s been 12 years. Cyril was making the tea when we first started with Flavio [Briatore]…”

Hearing that, Abiteboul half smiled and said: “He’s always nice.”

Toto Wolff and Esteban Ocon

Horner wasn’t finished there. He soon saw an opportunity to reference the clash in Brazil which cost Red Bull a victory, when Max Verstappen was hit while attempting to lap Mercedes junior driver Esteban Ocon, who was running in 16th. Lapped cars are usually expected to adhere to blue flags, which tell a driver to move over for another car.

Wolff was asked what the team’s plans were for Ocon, confirming he will stay on with the team in a reserve role next year having failed to secure a race seat.

“The plans are pretty clear,” Wolff said. “He’s going to be very close to the works team, to Mercedes, he’s going to be our reserve driver, our third driver. We hope to maybe do the odd test with him also. We’re looking at pre-season and in-season, but that is not sorted out yet. He will spend a lot of time in the simulator and be ready for a seat in 2020.”

At that point, Horner interrupted and said: “If you could show him what the [blue] flags mean, as well, that would help.”

While Horner smirked at his own comment, Wolff didn’t respond.

Brexit and Chase Carey

A question soon followed about the political negotiations surrounding the UK’s separation from the EU, which is likely to have a big impact on the F1 grid, with seven out of its 10 teams based there.

F1’s new owners are currently in a crucial point in their tenure, as they are ironing out the final details of the next set of contractual agreements the teams will be bound by after 2021. Horner has previously expressed frustration at F1’s inability to come to a consensous on key issues.

“Living in the UK, we’re living and breathing it like some of the rest of you guys and you get a little bit bored with, every time you turn on the news, hearing about Brexit: what the deal is; what it isn’t.

“Theresa May, she’s obviously doing the best she can with not a great hand – a little bit like Chase Carey, really! – and it’s a complex situation but I think over the next couple of weeks there should start to become some clarity and I think the bottom line is that people will continue to do business with the UK if we’re competitive and remain good at what we do.”

As the team principals on the panel spoke about Brexit, Horner’s response included the following line, referencing British prime minister Theresa May: “You know, Theresa May, she’s doing the best she can with not a great hand, a little bit like Chase Carey really…”