Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko has taken a dig at Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff for overlooking the opportunity to sign Max Verstappen during his early years.
Verstappen, who has emerged as the leading driver of his generation, has secured two Drivers’ Championship titles and surpassed Lewis Hamilton’s dominance in Formula One.
Marko, known for his blunt remarks, questioned Mercedes’ decision and playfully taunted Wolff for missing out on the Dutchman’s talent.
As a remarkable product of Red Bull’s young driver program, Verstappen made his breakthrough at Toro Rosso in 2015 before joining the senior Red Bull team the following year.
While Mercedes initially showed interest in the young driver, they failed to secure his signature, and he eventually joined Red Bull after being approached by Marko himself.
In an interview with Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, the 80-year-old Marko sarcastically questioned why Mercedes did not seize the opportunity to sign Verstappen, citing his evident talent.
Marko recalled observing Verstappen’s exceptional abilities during his time at the Norisring, a racing event, which made it clear to him that the youngster possessed something extraordinary.
Mercedes’ decision to pass on Verstappen has undoubtedly proven to be Red Bull’s gain, given the Dutchman’s stellar achievements since entering the Formula One grid eight years ago.
Toto Wolff recently acknowledged that he did recognise Verstappen’s potential as a young driver but explained that circumstances prevented him from signing him.
Mercedes was fully committed to retaining Nico Rosberg and later Valtteri Bottas from 2017 onwards.
Wolff expressed some regret at missing out on Verstappen, stating that at the time, the option simply was not available.
He highlighted the presence of Lewis Hamilton alongside any driver at Mercedes, suggesting that pairing Verstappen with the British driver might not have been the best fit, especially considering Verstappen’s lack of previous Formula One experience as a teenager.
Acknowledging the complexities of team dynamics, Wolff added that the longstanding relationship between Hamilton and Mercedes eliminated the need for such a decision.
While Wolff maintained friendly contact with Verstappen and his team, they never engaged in discussions about driving for Mercedes.