Helmut Marko doesn’t even try to contact Max Verstappen before 11am these days. Most likely, Verstappen will still sleep. Today he turns off his phone. “It has its own rhythm,” Marco says with a shrug. “He often goes to bed at 2am, 3am. Well, he knows very well what’s good for his life. We don’t have to interfere with that. If he wants to go to St Tropez instead of the simulator. Fine.”
It sounds like a little beer, but anyone who knows the 79-year-old Marco a little bit knows that his words underscore the special place Verstappen now occupies with him and within his team. At Red Bull, young drivers are often the first to come into contact with Marko. If the Austrian has the feeling that a driver is busy with something other than racing, he ruthlessly bids farewell to them.
Different rules apply to Verstappen. From the first serious conversation he had with him, at the age of fifteen, he knew he was dealing with something special. The two clicked instantly.
How is your relationship with him. Grandpa’s grandson? or father son?
“Well, it doesn’t feel that way for me. When I remember how I used to talk to my grandfather, those were completely different conversations. But it’s nice to see how he’s developed over the years, and how dedicated he is. He’s now one of the better drivers, but his feet are firmly on the ground.” And when he’s in the car, you can count on him.He delivers, and he rarely misses.
You have known him for a long time. Is the relationship only professional or does it have a more social side these days?
“We don’t go on holiday together or anything, but of course we talk about all sorts of things. In September we’ll be together in Austria at Mr. Mateschitz’s (recently deceased founder of Red Bull, so.) to visit, so sometimes we do something together.
Can he still surprise you when he’s in the car?
‘absolute. In Budapest (where Verstappen started in P10 and went on to win, so.), the first two, three courses. Left and right they charged in front of him and he dealt with them with such caution. When everything fell into place for the first course: Boom, Boom, Boom. This was out of the question last year. He knows exactly when to back off and attack.
Describe the feeling when it surprises you.
Then it’s an extra step. The ease where it seems to do it all. Well, comfort isn’t exactly the right word. that it the lightness of the seinekind of liberation. Look at Perez (team mate, so.), it is the perfect example of what a fast driver can achieve with this car. And then you have Max. He gets out of that car barely perspiring.
Marco’s Formula One career (nine races) ended abruptly when a bouncing stone pierced his eyebrow at the 1972 French Grand Prix. He lost his left eye. Then he threw himself into entrepreneurship – he runs four hotels in his hometown of Graz – and runs racing teams and drivers.
At the end of the 1990s, his best friend Dietrich Mateschitz asked him to lead the newly started talent show at Red Bull. He holds a great position in the same racing team founded in 2005. For example, his name cannot be found on the Formula 1 team’s website and the racing team always calls him “consultant” in press releases.
Unofficially, he is one of the strongest individuals in the Red Bull team and the Alpha Tauri satellite team. For example, Marko had the deciding vote in the decision to put Verstappen in a Formula 1 car when he was 17 years old without a driver’s license. After a year he decided he had been promoted to Red Bull. “I’m just doing my duties,” he said when asked about his position.
See by feeling
With his age — Marco will turn 80 in April — he says he’s not busy. I am a lot among young people. In the companies where I work, 95 percent of women and the oldest managers are about thirty years old. I go by feeling when I’m looking for people. For enthusiasm, they feel like the job. That’s what matters. I don’t watch school stuff or anything like that.
He is honest with his drivers. As an example, he cites a recent conversation with Dutch driver Nyck de Vries, who in October signed on for a seat in 2023 at Alpha Tauri. When he saw the contract, De Vries first wanted the papers to be examined by a lawyer.
“And I said, Can you read? If you see something, we’ll discuss it. He went to read it and said, ‘You’re right. You don’t need a lot of people. That’s what I’m trying to teach these guys. It’s about your career and your future. You’re also on your own in the car, nobody pays.'” metronome for you.
Marco is not afraid to make statements others in his position of power would prefer to avoid. For example, he doesn’t discount what he expects of De Vries in 2023 compared to teammate Yuki Tsunoda: ‘He has to be competitive right away. I mean: Yuki is fast, but not always steady and very emotional. In principle, Nyck should be the captain of the team later.
The drivers hardly get any practice time under Marko. They should overwhelm him immediately, as Verstappen did. Or his illustrious ex-growth, Sebastian Vettel. The German, who drove his last race in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, won four world titles in a row with Red Bull between 2010 and 2013. Earlier this year, Marko said Verstappen is already beyond Vettel at his peak.
You said you doubt whether Verstappen will stay active for so long that he’ll attack Schumacher’s and Hamilton’s (seven titles) records, for example. That he could give up from day to day.
I feel the same now. He clearly has a long term ahead of him with a long-term contract. So if we keep giving him a good car, I won’t see him leaving anytime soon. But one day it will end, I think. Then it’s “Hi” and he’s gone without feeling bad about it. What he wanted to achieve, he has already achieved. This was the first title. Whatever comes now is additional. But as long as we can give him a competitive offer, there’s no need to leave.
Do you see Verstappen fighting for a few seasons in a car that doesn’t drive for trophies, as Vettel has done in recent years?
“Oh no. He’s really not going to do that anymore. It was obviously an exciting time for us when we drove for Renault, the switch to Honda engines was crucial to the team’s future in that sense.
In retrospect, Honda’s 2019 deal turned out to be missing episodes For Verstappen, he led to structural success in Formula 1. In the meantime, he had grown into a two-time champion and one of his greatest championships, corresponding salary included. At the end of last month, Verstappen became the youngest ever to enter the Quote 500-existing. His fortune was estimated at 120 million euros. Or is this too low? Marco nods upwards with twinkling eyes. “But if we don’t have the money to pay him, he’ll still do it. He’s worth it, he justifies those kinds of sums with his performance. So we pay it.”
After his win in America, I said that wasn’t the last we saw of Max. Can he get better?
“It’s now very fast and always able to save the tires well. It’s getting better and better at this and many aspects are being added. For example, being able to get up to the same speed while still making less demand on the car, using less fuel, better battery savings.” , and make it less difficult to hit the brakes. He’s also very good at anticipation, uses his memory and brain, and knows what’s needed. Take Leclerc in France, Max knew exactly what to do to beat him. Give him a second, a second and a half so his tires don’t wear out too much.
And that car in fast corners. As the car goes off at 300 an hour, you hear Checo (teammate Sergio Pérez, so.) Quickly say: “Oops, the car is uncontrollable.” Then you hear Max: “Maybe the settling down wasn’t quite right.” This is the difference, so to speak.
At the same time, Marco isn’t shy about mentioning points for improvement. Little Singapore Grand Prix. Verstappen missed his first pole position there, because his team miscalculated the fuel and thus had to abort his fastest lap. Verstappen got angry after that. “Well, it was his race engineer’s fault. But then he’s a fagot, and he takes off. In a situation like that, we know we shouldn’t talk to him for a while. We let him go, and we know we’ll see him again,” Marko says.
He has to overcome those situations. He also won a lot with race engineer Gianpiero Lambiasi. Then one mistake. This is where Jos Verstappen comes in. But it gets better, you know.
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