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Max Verstappen threatens to quit Red Bull if Helmut Marko is suspended

Max Verstappen and Helmut Marko speaking at F1 testing in Bahrain
The future of Red Bull's star asset Max Verstappen appears uncertain - Getty Images/Mark Thompson

Max Verstappen sensationally threatened to quit Red Bull on Friday night if the team’s parent company got rid of its motorsport advisor Helmut Marko as the fallout over the Christian Horner controversy took another twist.

Verstappen said he could “not continue” without the man who brought him into Formula One.

The three-time world champion was speaking after Marko revealed on Austrian television that he could be suspended in the wake of the Christian Horner saga. The Red Bull team principal, 50, was cleared last week of allegations of controlling behaviour from a female colleague. His accuser has now been suspended as a direct result of that investigation and now appears there is a separate internal investigation ongoing at Red Bull GmbH into the leaks that occurred throughout last month’s internal investigation into Horner.

Verstappen, who has a deal at Red Bull until 2028, is widely believed to have a clause in his contract allowing him to leave should Marko leave.

There is a seat available at Mercedes next year with Lewis Hamilton departing for Ferrari and rumours linking Verstappen with a sensational move to Brackley have grown stronger in recent days. There is speculation the Verstappen camp suspect Mercedes’ power train may be better than Red Bull’s in 2026, when new regulations come in.

Speaking after taking pole for Saturday’s race, Verstappen raised the stakes still further by making clear that he backed Marko.

“My loyalty to him is big,” he said. “It’s very important that he stays within the team. He and Dietrich [Mateschitz] built this team. I feel like if such an important pillar falls away that is not good for me. For me Helmut has to stay.”

He later told Dutch media: “I can’t continue at Red Bull without Helmut. If this happens, then it will be an unworkable situation.”

Helmut Marko at the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix
Marko was ordered not to give any interviews to media - Getty Images/Kym Illman

Verstappen on Friday took pole for the second race of the season in Saudi Arabia, with British 18 year-old Ollie Bearman a stunning 11th for Ferrari after receiving a late call-up for Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard had to undergo surgery for appendicitis.

Marko defies orders and opens door for Verstappen’s potential exit

Just when it looked as if the Red Bull controversy might be running out of oxygen, with Christian Horner backed by the team’s majority owner, his wife Geri “hugely supportive” of him and preparing to fly in to Saudi Arabia to be by his side again, and even Jos Verstappen quiet for the time being, along comes Helmut Marko to pour kerosene over it.

Red Bull’s 80 year-old motorsport advisor provided another dramatic twist on Friday night to a bitter internal fight which now looks as if it is going to the wire. Marko’s admission that he could be suspended by Red Bull opens the door to Max Verstappen’s exit from the team, since the world champion is believed to have an escape clause in his contract allowing him to walk should Marko ever leave.

The only question is what Marko’s motives were in giving his interview to Austrian broadcaster ORF.

It may be that he is daring Red Bull to sack him, to clear the way for Verstappen’s departure.

It may be that Verstappen is saying, like his father did last weekend, that Red Bull need to sack Horner before the team implodes.

Either way, in a fresh twist before the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Marko confessed to ORF that he could “theoretically” be suspended by Red Bull GmbH, the parent company of Red Bull Racing, in the very near future.

It is unclear why he said that, although it now appears certain there is a separate internal investigation at Red Bull GmbH into the leaks throughout last month’s internal investigation into Horner.

The Red Bull team principal, 50, was cleared last week of allegations of controlling behaviour from a female colleague. His accuser has now been suspended as a direct result of that investigation.

It is understood Marko was ordered by his employers, Red Bull GmbH – the 80-year-old is not an employee of Red Bull Racing – not to give any interviews to the media. But in defiance of that order, Marko spoke to ORF in the Jeddah paddock ahead of qualifying. Asked how likely it was that he would not be involved in the next race, Marko replied cryptically: “It’s difficult to judge. But at the end of the day, I’ll decide for myself what to do.”

Pressed on whether there was a possibility he might be suspended in the near future, he said: “There is always the theoretical possibility.”

On the possibility of Verstappen leaving Red Bull, he added: “Max is definitely the strongest asset, there are no faster drivers at the moment. Losing him, that would be a huge loss. Also for the mechanics and engineers, who all strive to work for Max.”

A spokesperson for Red Bull told Telegraph Sport that Marko had not been suspended.

The speculation on the ground is that Marko has fallen foul of Red Bull GmbH’s Thai majority owner, Chalerm Yoovidhya.

Speaking after taking pole for Saturday’s race, Verstappen raised the stakes still further by making clear that he backed Marko. “My loyalty to him is big,” he said. “It’s very important that he stays within the team. He and Dietrich [Mateschitz] built this team. I feel like if such an important pillar falls away that is not good for me. For me Helmut has to stay.”

Max Verstappen at the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix
Could Verstappen's days at Red Bull be numbered? - Getty Images/Qian Jun

There are separate rumours at Jeddah that Yoovidhya may try to spin Red Bull Racing out of the Red Bull parent company in Salzburg.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff later appeared to taunt his rivals when he joked he would consider bringing Marko into his team if he left Red Bull.

“We’re missing our old mascot anyway,” Wolff said, referring to the late three-time world champion Niki Lauda, a former non-executive chairman of Mercedes F1 and another Austrian. “Then we’ll just use Helmut. He’s the right age. He doesn’t have a red cap, but then he’ll join us.” Wolff added: “If the team loses Helmut, it will certainly be a loss for Red Bull and for the team.”

The Marko development comes as Horner and Red Bull faced ­further pressure from their rivals over their handling of the controversy.

Zak Brown, the McLaren chief executive, said he had “never seen anything like it”, adding that Horner would certainly have been suspended had the same allegations been raised against him at McLaren.

Speaking on Thursday, Horner had said it was time to “draw a line” under the controversy, accusing Red Bull’s rivals of using the controversy for political gain.

However, Brown dismissed that claim, insisting McLaren would have handled things very differently. “From being around Formula One for many decades, I can’t recall an incident like this,” Brown said.

“I don’t know the details. I know what we would do as McLaren, we would suspend the individual while an investigation was going on, we’d be extremely transparent about it.”

Brown added that if he had a driver vacancy, Verstappen would be his first option to fill it. “I couldn’t be happier with Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri,” he said. “Obviously, Max is an immense talent so of course if I had a seat available he’d be top of my list.”

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