Marko reveals how Red Bull stopped Verstappen from joining Mercedes

Max Verstappen was close to joining Mercedes before his arrival into the Red Bull system, according to Dr Helmut Marko.

Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko has revealed how the Milton Keynes team pried Max Verstappen away from the clutches of Mercedes when he was a junior driver.

Verstappen debuted in 2015 for Toro Rosso alongside Carlos Sainz having participated in his first practice session the year previous at the tender age of just 16.

When Daniil Kvyat was dropped from the main Red Bull squad after just four races of the 2016 season, Verstappen was chosen to replace the Russian, and instantly took victory on his debut for the team at the Spanish Grand Prix.

He has added another 19 victories to his tally since then, and claimed his maiden Formula 1 world championship last year by passing Sir Lewis Hamilton on the dramatic final lap of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Dr Marko was aware that Mercedes had been attempting to sign the Dutchman to their programme in the early stages of his career, but he warned the 24-year-old that his progression to the top of the sport would not be as rapid as it was with Red Bull.

“Of course, we knew that Max’s entourage was also talking to Mercedes but with them you wouldn’t have gotten to Formula 1 so quickly,” he said in a new book, titled “Formula Max”.

“They wouldn’t have dared to put a rookie behind the wheel so soon. And my plan was simple: sign a contract and immediately give him a seat in F1.

“In many ways, that was what allowed us to take him away from Mercedes.”

The Austrian was aware very early on of Verstappen’s capabilities, and that their less cautious approach is what distinguishes them from the Brackley-based outfit.

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“We were seeing that Max was already prepared for the highest category of motorsport, and that’s how it was,” he explained.

“I would say that, in general, we are very different from Mercedes in the way we approach things.

“We are much closer to the idea of ​​’no risk, no victory’.”

The 20-time race winner has a clause in his contract that allows him to leave should Red Bull fail to meet their performance targets and, while that clause is exceedingly unlikely to be triggered now, it seemed particularly prominent in 2019 when Red Bull were still wriggling their way back to the front of the grid.

He was thus linked with a move to Mercedes, but after a tumultuous campaign that saw himself and Hamilton collide on multiple occasions, Dr Marko maintains that Verstappen and his father Jos are now utterly disenfranchised by the idea of joining the eight-time constructors’ champions.

“I do not think that Max will leave us then,” he explained.

Further deteriorating the Dutchman’s relationship with Mercedes were the avid celebrations when Hamilton won the British Grand Prix in July after a crash between the pair that saw Verstappen end up in hospital.

“The events at Silverstone have left too big a crack, especially with Jos. I think that makes him less likely to switch sides,” said Dr Marko, eluding to what his driver perceived as disrespect by the Brackley team in their post-race festivities.

The title protagonists entered the final round of the season level on points, and the 78-year-old concedes that there are only so many years that such intense championship battles can persist, revealing that 2021 took its toll on everyone at the team.

“We were all at the limit,” he told Autorevue.

“And you are also much more susceptible to the flu. Thank God some people only got the coronavirus after Abu Dhabi. That was good timing.”

“And Max also said that he couldn’t stand such an intensity anymore.

“He still wants to drive for a while, but if that’s the case every year, then it [his career] is limited.”

The Red Bull advisor insists that the team need to continue to improve and compete at the highest echelons of F1 – particularly under the new technical regulations – if they are to keep the 24-year-old around.

“The success now is very important for us,” he added.

“That is also the reason why we have worked towards this.

“I’ve said it before – we need a winning car if we want to keep Verstappen in the long term. That’s why we took the decision in mid-2020 to focus entirely on [the 2021] car.”

Further, due to the exponential rise in interest around the brand, Dr Marko indicated that Verstappen’s victory last season holds more value than any other.

“Breaking the [Mercedes] dominance after seven years, which was mainly due to the engine, had an impact on the whole of Formula 1,” he explained.

“Interest and viewer numbers have grown rapidly. It is definitely the most important victory we have achieved in the history of Red Bull Racing.”

Red Bull have retained their driver line-up of Verstappen and Sergio Perez for the 2022 season, which kicks off on 20 March in Bahrain.