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Verstappen calls for ‘peace’ at Red Bull

Max Verstappen has expressed hope that “everyone keeps the peace” moving forward at Red Bull amid continued turbulence at the team.

A week after Verstappen’s father, Jos, further ignited focus on the internal situation at Red Bull in wake of the conclusion of the investigation into Christian Horner, which resulted in allegations made against the team principal being dismissed, the F1 world champion’s future at the team was itself the subject of intense speculation at the Saudi Arabian GP.

The uncertainty was fuelled further when Helmut Marko, the veteran motorsport advisor who is employed directly by parent company Red Bull GmbH and is close to the Verstappens, suggested to media at the event last Friday that he could either be about to be suspended by the company, or leave of his own accord.

Verstappen swiftly publicly backed the Austrian, insisting that the 80-year-old “has to stay”, before going one step further and strongly implying that Marko’s continued presence at the team was crucial for his own.

But after meeting with Red Bull GmbH chief executive Oliver Mintzlaff, who oversees the energy drink firm’s sports projects, ahead of Saturday’s race, Marko told reporters when asked if he faced any suspension: “No, no, no. If someone has this wish or idea, there was no legal basis.”

Image: Max Verstappen with Helmut Marko and Christian Horner as Red Bull celebrate their Saudi Arabian GP one-two

Verstappen told Sky Sports F1 before the race that it was “absolutely” good news for him that Marko’s future appeared to be resolved.

Then speaking after winning the Saudi Arabian GP to continue his 100 per cent start to the new season, Verstappen was asked to clarify his remarks from Friday and whether, despite the strong likelihood he would win more world titles with them in the short term, he would really walk away in a scenario were Marko to ever depart.

“I always said that what is most important is that we work together as a team and that everyone keeps the peace,” said Verstappen.

“And that’s what we, I think, all agree on within the team.

“So hopefully from now on, that is also fully the case.

“Everyone is trying to focus in the same direction. And I think the positive out of all this is that it didn’t hurt our performances. So it’s a very strong team.

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Highlights of the Saudi Arabian GP from Jeddah

“I think also mentally, what you can see from not only driver’s side, but also mechanics, engineers, everyone is there to do their job. And I think everyone, even when there is stuff going on or whatever, they’re just very focused on their job as they should be.”

Speaking to Sky Sports F1 shortly afterwards, Verstappen added: “I think everyone knows that it’s important to have peace in the team and just focus on the driving aspect and the performance aspect. So that’s what we try to do as a team.”

Horner: ‘No single individual is bigger than this team’

Verstappen’s motorsport career has been backed by Red Bull since the age of 16 when he signed to their famed junior programme, which Marko has overseen, mid-way through his first season of single-seater car racing, European F3, in 2014.

In March 2022, on the back of winning his first world title months before, he signed a bumper five-year contract extension that runs to the end of 2028.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, whose team have a seat open for 2025 after Lewis Hamilton signed for Ferrari, admitted after the Saudi race that he “would love to have” Verstappen but that “first we need to sort out our car”.

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Christian Horner says ‘no one individual is bigger than the team’ as he answers questions on whether Helmut Marko or Max Verstappen are leaving Red Bull

Quizzed on his star driver’s future and the current state of his own relationship with the Dutchman, Horner said things between them were “absolutely fine”.

“Max is an important member of our team and a valued member of our team. He’s a wonderful driver but everyone has a role to play in this team,” Horner told Sky Sports F1.

“We are a team and no single individual is bigger than this team. That’s the only way you achieve these kinds of results.”

In a later written media briefing in the Jeddah paddock, Horner reiterated his point that there was “no individual is bigger than the team”, before adding: “We have a phenomenal car. We’ve got one seat open for next year.

“I’ve probably got 16 drivers that are desperate to be in that car for next year. And Checo [Perez, who is out of contract] is in pole position, it’s his seat to lose. So I think that we have a strong relationship with Max, he’s doing a wonderful job. His focus is very much on what he’s doing on track and that’s where our focus is.”

Asked if there was a threat Verstappen might leave before the end of his contract, Horner did not entirely rule out the possibility.

“You can never say never. If a driver doesn’t want to be somewhere, then they’ll go somewhere else,” he replied.

“But as a team, I can’t see any reason why anybody would want to step out of this team. I think he’s got great support around him and he’s doing a wonderful job with a great car.”

The team principal added: “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.

“And that applies whether it’s a machine operator or a designer or somebody in one of the support functions, that runs through the business.

“Being involved in a team like this involves commitment and passion, and Max has that. We’ve seen that, he’s been here since he was 18 years of age and I have no doubt that of his commitment and passion going forward, but that’s very much the way it is.”

Formula 1’s biggest ever season continues with the Australian Grand Prix from March 22-24, live on Sky Sports F1. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – just £21 a month for 12 months. No contract, cancel anytime

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