Verstappen issues Red Bull warning amid fresh crisis over Marko

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Red Bull’s Formula 1 team faces a fresh crisis with a dispute involving Helmut Marko that Max Verstappen hints could have repercussions for his own future.

The world champion team has started 2024 in dominant fashion on-track, claiming a clear one-two in the opening grand prix in Bahrain and Verstappen scoring pole again in Saudi Arabia.

Off-track, though, Red Bull has lurched from one problem to another – starting with an investigation into allegations of misconduct by team principal Christian Horner, then a fall-out between Horner and Verstappen’s father Jos, and now a new issue relating to Marko.

MARKO IN JEOPARDY?

The long-serving special adviser wields massive influence on Red Bull Racing and was effectively the late Dietrich Mateschitz’s man on the ground, having been involved in Red Bull’s motorsport activities for decades.

He is close to the Verstappens and historically to the Austrian side of Red Bull, although since company co-founder Mateschitz’s death in late 2022 there has been a consistent belief that Marko has a strained relationship with the new leadership he is forced to report to.

Red Bull’s F1 teams now fall under the remit of Red Bull executive Oliver Mintzlaff, who Marko is due to meet with in Saudi Arabia this weekend – as it emerges Marko is being probed by Red Bull GmbH in relation to leaked information, which could be separate from the anonymous sharing of alleged evidence from the investigation into Horner.

Exactly what Red Bull’s parent company is concerned by is unclear but it is believed to relate to comments Marko has made in private to certain parties, including the media. Despite his status in the organisation, Marko is not considered by Red Bull to be an official spokesperson.

While there has not been any action taken yet, Marko did not rule out being suspended when asked by ORF on Friday in Jeddah. He then said to Sky Germany that “everything has to align for me to want to continue working”, implying that right now that is not guaranteed.

VERSTAPPEN: ‘HELMUT HAS TO STAY’

In the FIA press conference after scoring pole, Verstappen was asked about Marko’s comments and the prospect of it being Marko’s final race, and strongly indicated that he would consider his own future at Red Bull if Marko were to leave against his will.

Verstappen reiterated multiple times in a lengthy answer that his decision-making would be connected to Marko’s fate.

“I have a lot of respect for Helmut,” said Verstappen. “What we’ve achieved together goes very far. Also, my loyalty to him is very big.

“And I’ve always expressed this to everyone in the team, everyone high up, that he’s an important part in my decision making – for all the time and in the future as well within the team.

“It’s very important that he stays within the team, including of course everyone else, because it’s a whole team effort.

“It’s very important that we keep the key people together, because I feel if such an important pillar falls away – that’s also what I’ve said to the team – that is not good for my situation.

“For sure, for me, Helmut has to stay. For sure.

“He has built this team together with Dietrich, from day one. And he’s always been very loyal – to the team and to the people within the team, to make sure everyone would keep their positions already from back in the day.

“It’s also very important that you give the man a lot of respect for what he has done – and that comes back also to loyalty, and integrity.

“For sure it’s important he stays part of the team, also for me.”

This is the first time that Verstappen has indicated his place at Red Bull, where he is meant to have a contract until the end of 2028, could be influenced by a matter involving someone else.

It may be that Verstappen’s future is intertwined with Marko’s on a contractual basis, not just because of a personal loyalty. It has been rumoured that Verstappen would be free to leave Red Bull if Marko left.

Verstappen’s powerful statement of support in the press conference also contrasted sharply with the qualified comments he made about Horner last week when asked if he still had faith in his leadership amid that separate, ongoing saga. 

He has also opted not to counter his father’s criticism of Horner’s leadership in the wake of the controversy that has put Horner and the team under intense scrutiny that still endures. 

It positions Marko, and what happens to him, as a much bigger factor in Verstappen’s thought process than Horner’s fate.

And in the complex power struggle plaguing both team and parent company, Verstappen has essentially aligned himself with Marko rather than either warring faction – be that Red Bull in Austria or the majority-owning Yoovidyah family that is believed to support Horner.

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