Max Verstappen free to leave Red Bull as Horner responds to exit threat

Max Verstappen previously stated that his future at Red Bull was tied to that of Helmut Marko

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Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has said for the first time that he will not stand in Max Verstappen’s way if the three-time world champion wants to leave the team amid interest from Mercedes.

Verstappen made a startling declaration on Friday claiming that he would look to leave the Austrian team if their special advisor Helmut Marko was forced out, with the team’s special advisor facing an uncertain future in the midst of a huge power struggle at the team.

Marko’s position has been placed under scrutiny with unsubstantiated reports in Austria claiming he was the person responsible for leaking material allegedly linked to Red Bull’s investigation into Horner, from which he was cleared. Initial reports suggesting he would be suspended by Red Bull GmBH, the team’s parent company, were denied and he met with CEO Oliver Mintzlaff to discuss his future.

The situation concerning Horner and Marko has led to speculation suggesting that Verstappen could depart after his father was involved in a heated fallout with Horner. And the 50-year-old has conceded he would not attempt to keep his star driver or any other employee if they wished to depart.

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’s like anything in life, you can’t force somebody to be somewhere just because of a piece of paper. If somebody didn’t want to be at this team, then we’re not going to force somebody against their will to be here,” Horner told the press in Saudi Arabia.

Horner later added: “You can never say no [about Verstappen leaving], but if a driver doesn’t want to be somewhere, then they’ll they’ll go somewhere else. But I can’t see any reason why anybody would want to step out of this team. I think he’s got a great support around him and he’s doing a wonderful job with a great car.”

Horner: Verstappen is happy

Toto Wolff has done little to dampen speculation concerning his interest in snatching Verstappen away from Red Bull and the Austrian was even spotted in deep conversation with his father, Jos Verstappen, at the Bahrain GP. The Austrian supremo is looking for another star driver to lead the team with Lewis Hamilton heading to Ferrari next year.

However, it remains unlikely that Verstappen would leave the fastest team on the grid to join Mercedes, who have scored just 26 points in 2024 so far, and Horner is confident the Dutchman is happy to remain where he is.

“I’m sure every team in the in the paddock would love to have my experts. As Toto Wolff also said, the best drivers always want to be in the best cars. And so we’re a team, Max has achieved his 56th Grand Prix victory today and his 100th podium, all of which had been in Red Bull Racing cars. As a team, we perform exceptionally well together and everybody has a role to play in that team.”

Asked about his own personal relationship with Verstappen, the Red Bull boss said: “It’s absolutely fine with Max, he’s working well within the team, there’s no tension, there’s no stress.

“You can see how relaxed he is around the garage with with with everybody in the team. And that’s translating to his performance on track as well. So we don’t see any any issues with Max.”

Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who has worked for a number of media organisations, including the Daily Express, The Mirror, Evening Standard, The Independent and Bleacher Report. Joe has been following F1 since when he watched Mika Hakkinen clinch the 1999 drivers' championship, and his first taste of real-life racing action was watching David Coulthard spin off into the gravel at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2001.
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