LONDON - Christian Horner has shrugged off speculation that he will be the fall guy for Red Bull's worst Formula One season in seven years.
Rumours swept the paddock in Spielberg last weekend that the Red Bull team principal would be the man to pay the price for a dismal Austrian Grand Prix in front of Dietrich Mateschitz, founder of the energy drinks company and one of the biggest spenders in F1.
A rival team principal even rang Horner on Sunday before the race to commiserate, claiming that Gerhard Berger, the former McLaren and Ferrari driver, was in the frame to take over.
NO SLOWING DOWN
I have a long contract with the team. It is difficult but I had dinner with (owner) Dietrich on Saturday and we still get along very well. We know we have problems but we just have to work through them and I am here to do that job.
- Christian Horner
"I was shocked," Horner told The Times. "I had no idea people were talking about me that way.
"I have a long contract with the team. It is difficult but I had dinner with Dietrich on Saturday and we still get along very well.
"We know we have problems but we just have to work through them and I am here to do that job."
Austrian Berger is close to Mateschitz, his countryman, and Helmut Marko, Mateschitz's adviser in F1.
But he has next to no experience of running a team and his slightly embarrassing performance conducting a series of giggly interviews on the Austria podium, which included an expletive, was hardly evidence of the gravitas required to run a team with 700 employees.
Horner has run Red Bull from the start, when Mateschitz paid £1 (S$2.10) to take over an ailing Jaguar team in 2005.
The public schoolboy from England led Red Bull to four consecutive world titles and is widely tipped to take over from Bernie Ecclestone, F1's chief executive.
But rumour runs hard when things are going this badly and Red Bull's fall from grace has been spectacular. Mateschitz rocked F1 on the eve of his home race, almost within earshot of the home where he was brought up, by threatening to quit the sport.
He has invested more than £1 billion in the senior Red Bull team and the Toro Rosso junior squad and this was no idle threat, according to Horner.
Under grey skies and with his opulent Red Bull Ring little more than half-full, there was no cheer for Mateschitz on the track on Sunday as Daniel Ricciardo finished 10th and Daniil Kvyat two places farther back.
Horner warned that F1 risks losing one of its biggest investors without rapid changes to a rulebook that is strangling the sport.
"He is ultimately a fan," Horner said. "The risk for Formula One is when someone like Dietrich starts to fall out of love with it. He runs a multi-national company that does not exist because of Formula One.
"If Formula One is not generating a return or coverage for him, then, of course, he will raise questions about it."
Red Bull's problems are out of Horner's control and lie with Renault, the engine supplier, plus a rulebook that prevents the speedy change needed to catch up with the dominant Mercedes team.
Renault has been unable to grasp the concept of the new hybrid engines in all their complexity. It has to decide before the British Grand Prix on July 5 the direction of its research.
A wrong move now will consign Red Bull to another crushing season until the end of their contract with the French carmaker next year.
"It is not great encouragement for Renault to invest further in the sport when there is public embarrassment over engine failure," Horner said.
"Mercedes have done a great job but it is totally out of kilter with the other engine manufacturers and we need them if there are to be engines for teams."
THE TIMES, LONDON