Is Marko threat Verstappen’s first step towards leaving Red Bull?

Max Verstappen has put his full support behind Helmut Marko in the Red Bull power struggle and issued his own ultimatum to the team


Formula 1 markets itself as the fastest sport in the world, but recent weeks have seen events off the track outstrip even the racing on it.

When Red Bull brought their investigation of Christian Horner to a close with no further action taken, on the eve of an F1 season that they looked serenely prepared for following a classy test, it seemed inconceivable that Max Verstappen‘s future at the team would be in serious doubt less than a fortnight later.

Even as recently as the Wednesday before cars hit the track to start the 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix weekend after Verstappen‘s crushing win in Bahrain, the Dutchman said things would have to get “really crazy” for him to not drive a Red Bull in 2025.

Then things got really crazy.

A damaging string of leaks of supposed evidence from that investigation has failed to dislodge Horner from his post but may mark the end of the other key figure at the heart of Red Bull since its inception – Helmut Marko – forcing Max Verstappen to issue his own ultimatum.

With Marko thought to be under investigation for his involvement in the bombshell leaks of messages and images allegedly sent between Horner and the female employee that accused him of ‘inappropriate and controlling behaviour’, Verstappen he’ll only remain at the team as long as the Austrian advisor does.

“Helmut and I, we have a lot of respect for each other,” Verstappen told Sky Sports F1 in Bahrain. “My loyalty in general to Red Bull, but also to him, after all for what he has done for me goes very far.

“I’ve always said, especially after Dietrich’s passing, with everyone in the team, that I find it really important that we keep the key team together because that’s how we have performed really well and that’s how we will perform really well in the future. They know that.

“For me, Helmut is a very key factor in that and he has to stay for me, for sure.”

Mercedes‘ fall from grace was unexpected, Red Bull‘s would be incomprehensible.

It’s a total mess at Red Bull

Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen is presented with the Pirelli award by Gianluigi Buffon in parc ferme at the 2024 Saudi Arabian GP | Mark Thompson/Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

It would’ve been a horribly damaging period for Red Bull even without this further fallout.

They’ve been unjustifiably opaque surrounding Horner‘s investigation, and instead of keeping the topic out of the headlines that strategy has resulted in most people forming their own opinion because there’s only Red Bull‘s word to say otherwise.

The rumoured allegations against Horner – and the supposed evidence in the public domain – are too serious to be brushed under the carpet but that’s exactly what Red Bull have done by attempting to leave such a near-complete vacuum of information around the topic.

However, if the team weren’t at panic stations before then Verstappen‘s comments must’ve changed that. This is code red, DEFCON 0, one second to midnight on the doomsday clock, every apocalyptic cliche you can think of.

It’s not just a spur-of-the-moment outburst from Verstappen. Just as notable as his Marko comments is what he hasn’t Horner – when asked directly whether he had full faith in his team principal after taking pole position in Bahrain, the Dutchman was much flimsier:

“For my side, and I think from what I can see from the mechanics and the engineers we are fully focused on the car and the performance here during the weekend,” Verstappen told the press. “And that’s how it should be, I think, and that’s what we continue to do. Because it’s not our business.

“We’re not, particularly involved in that, and we are here, we are paid to do our job and that’s what we are doing and that’s also what we love doing you know, so that’s what we’re focussing on.”

Red Bull quite simply cannot afford to lose their star driver.

The three competitive sessions of the 2024 season so far have indicated that Verstappen is the biggest difference between Red Bull and the chasing pack rather than the RB20, with Perez qualifying fourth and third with a healthy gap to his teammate.

And while he did come through to take second in Bahrain, Red Bull‘s rivals are far from hitting their stride yet in 2024, while this was Perez‘s most profitable period of 2023.

Put Verstappen in a Ferrari this season and he’s favourite for the title, and he’d potentially even be a contender for McLaren or Mercedes.

Legendary, notorious spin doctor Alastair Campbell defined the first step in dealing with a PR crisis as “develop, execute and narrate strategy” and up until now Red Bull‘s strategy has been focussed on saving face and keeping Horner in his post.

Verstappen‘s ultimatum changes that.

Adam Dickinson
An international multi-award-winning journalist, Adam Dickinson has written for since June 2022 and also contributes to TNT Sports, Eurosport and the Rugby Paper. He's also had articles published in the Daily Telegraph and several local newspapers, previously worked for and in motorsport, and graduated with a First-Class Journalism Degree from the University of Sheffield having also studied in Oklahoma. Adam started watching F1 by accident in 2007, catching the last race in Indianapolis, and attended his first race as a journalist at the 2023 British Grand Prix.
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