Guaranteed Helmut Marko is still sporting a smile weeks after watching his protege Max Verstappen claim the 2021 Formula 1 World Champion crown, the Red Bull ‘advisor’ looks back on the triumph and is excited to see what the Dutch superstar has in store for us in future.
It is more than fitting that Verstappen, the brightest light of the New Guard, grabbed the torch from living legend Lewis Hamilton just when the Briton seemed to be heading for an unprecedented eighth F1 title.
Until the last lap of our “Race of the Year” Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, when the new Prince dethroned the long-reigning King. And among the proudest of all must be Marko, who staked his reputation on the line by backing Jos Verstappen’s son.
The DNA and pedigree were surely there with a mother (Sophie Kumpen) and father race drivers, and a stellar karting career and an impressive Formula 3 foray. But it was a huge gamble for Marko to do what he did and with it rewrite the history of F1 driver records.
The Austrian former racing ace recalled on the Sport und Talkshow: “With only a year in single-seaters it was definitely a certain risk, but I knew that we had a great team at Scuderia with Franz Tost.
“They did the preparation, we had him test with old cars. So, I knew he was going into it well prepared and then the next step was almost even bolder.”
That next step was a masterstroke by Marko when he demoted under-perfoming Daniil Kvyat back down to Toro Rosso and promoted young Max to the ‘Senior Team’ alongside Daniel Ricciardo for the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.
Unfortunately, Daniil had too many accidents
Marko explained: “Unfortunately, Daniil had too many accidents. So we took Max to Red Bull Racing… there was an immediate outcry. but answered the critics perfectly, keeping Kimi Raikkonen, with a faster car and fresher tyres, in check for 20 laps. Of course, I’m happy that it worked out that way.”
Since Verstappen burst on the F1 scene, making his F1 debut at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix, records have tumbled:
- Youngest driver to start a race: 17 years, 166 days at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix
- Youngest driver to score points: 17 years, 180 days at the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix
- Youngest driver to win a race: 18 years, 228 days at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix
- Youngest driver to score a podium finish: 18 years, 228 days at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix
- Youngest driver to lead a lap 18 years, 228 days at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix
- Youngest driver to set fastest lap: 19 years, 44 days at the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix
- Youngest driver to score a grand slam: 23 years, 277 days at the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix
Asked what were traits of character that the pair shared, Marko revealed: “We have the same passion, we want to win. To see him drive so skillfully at the very limit, yes, that warms my heart. We don’t indulge in any criticism or anything like that, as we are normally always in agreement.
“Max improves constantly, I’m excited to see what’s next,” added Red Bull’s Doctor.
Our team acted sensationally in Abu Dhabi
Inevitably a question regarding the manner in which the Abu Dhabi finale was controversially decided, Marko saw no issue with decisions on the night that led to Mercedes protesting, before deciding not to take the matter further but let it be known they felt cheated.
Hamilton has disappeared off his normally buzzing social networks in the aftermath of the defeat, triggering speculation of retirement.
“Our team acted sensationally,” insisted Marko of the night’s shenanigans: “We immediately switched to the soft tyres and then, yes, Hamilton had no chance. Max asked me afterwards what I thought would happen with the protest. I said: You will win it, it was clear.
In the wake of the hectic night at Yas Marina, FIA Formula 1 Race Director Michael Masi came under fire from many quarters, but Marko had praise for the Australian: “One must also credit Michael Masi who wanted to finish the race under racing conditions.
“With IndyCar or NASCAR, for example, there is a rule that they even add a lap so that the race can be finished under racing conditions. There were five cars in between and he just sent them away, so that you could race that last lap.
“It’s like the referee, he has the right to make a decision and if he decides like that, then that’s valid,” declared Marko.
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 22, 2021