Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko concedes that he worried his world champion driver Max Verstappen might have been tempted elsewhere while they were still climbing back up to the top of the timing screens.
After four consecutive world championships with Sebastian Vettel between 2010 and 2013, during such time they won 41 races between the German and Mark Webber, they were comfortably out-developed by Mercedes as they headed into the turbo-hybrid era in 2014.
In the next seven seasons, they claimed just 23 more wins through a combination of Daniel Ricciardo and Verstappen, and championship contention seemed lightyears away, leading to rumours that the superstar Dutchman might well have been considering a switch to Mercedes.
Indeed, he had a clause in his contract that allowed him to leave if the Milton Keynes side were unable to give him a sufficiently competitive car, and Dr Marko discloses that watching the 24-year-old walk away was a very real possibility.
“When we couldn’t deliver him a championship-winning car in the long run, I was afraid he might go somewhere else,” he told Formel1.
But the years of patience and unrelenting work to recover the ground lost to the Silver Arrows was vindicated last year when Verstappen won 10 races on his way to his maiden world championship, defeating Sir Lewis Hamilton in the final round of the year in Abu Dhabi.
“I am proud of what Max has achieved,” added Dr Marko.
“It confirms that it was the right choice at the time to bring him to Formula 1. And it has also silenced all the scepticism that existed in the beginning.”
Verstappen has since been rewarded with a new contract that runs until the end of 2028 and is reportedly worth $250 million.
Dr Marko says that retaining the reigning world champion was a no-brainer.
“We only had to change the years for the new contract,” he stated.
Red Bull’s fortunes have been mixed thus far in 2022. Verstappen’s victory in Saudi Arabia was flanked by two retirements in Bahrain and Australia due to reliability issues.
The latest DNF in Melbourne leaves him sixth in the Drivers’ Championship, on 25 points.
Verstappen has recently said that there is “no reason to believe” that he can retain his title this year due to the dominance of Ferrari and Charles Leclerc, coupled with Red Bull’s reliability woes.