Helmut Marko reminds Toto Wolff of huge Max Verstappen mistake he made

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen in conversation with Helmut Marko in the Red Bull garage at the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen in conversation with Helmut Marko.

Helmut Marko has reminded Toto Wolff of that time he signed Esteban Ocon instead of Max Verstappen having declared the latter’s talent was “not recognisable”.

Verstappen is today a triple Formula 1 World Champion with 49 wins, 93 podiums, and a bunch of records to his name.

However, 10 years ago he was a karting star looking to break into single-seater racing with his year in the European Formula 3 leading to a meteoric rise. Red Bull signed him in late 2014 before putting him in the Toro Rosso the following year.

Toto Wolff missed the opportunity to sign Max Verstappen

It was, for Wolff, a moment of regret with the Austrian revealing he had the opportunity to sign the Dutchman to Mercedes but passed on it.

“Do I regret missing out on Max? Certainly. But it wasn’t an option back in the day,” he told ESPN earlier this year.

“We had two drivers that I was extremely happy with, in Nico and Lewis, and when Nico left [at the end of 2016], Valtteri [Bottas] was then the option and Max wasn’t even available.”

But according to Marko it was more of a case that Wolff did “not” recognise Verstappen’s talent and instead signed Ocon to Mercedes’ junior programme while also becoming the Frenchman’s manager.

Speaking to OE24 about Gerhard Berger’s recent U-turn on Verstappen, the former driver now rating the 25-year-old up there with Ayrton Senna before adding that Verstappen “will develop into the best driver” ever, Marko was happy his compatriot changed his tune.

“At first he didn’t share my euphoria about Max. When I first came up with this comparison [Verstappen being like Senna], he said: “Now it’s over!”, he said.

And Berger wasn’t the only one doubting Verstappen’s class, Marko adding: “Mr. Wolff also said at the time that the talent was not recognisable and he signed Ocon [Wolff becoming his manager].”

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A year ago as Verstappen stood on the cusp of a second successive World title, Marko recalled the time at the beginning of the driver’s single-seater career when he likened him to the late great Senna.

But, he revealed, Berger wasn’t impressed with his comments, so much so that he wrote Marko to complain.

He told Sport1: “He [Verstappen] has fantastic control of the car – especially on the limits. That’s why I compared him to Ayrton Senna in his early years.

“I didn’t necessarily make friends with that. My good friend Gerhard Berger wrote to me at the time that the comparison was far too far-fetched.”

It’s a comment, though, that Berger now agrees with.

“With Senna, it was fitness, the whole racing intelligence. I noticed that there was no position where he had any weaknesses. It’s similar with Max,” he told ServusTV.

He concedes it was something Marko noted from the get-go when Verstappen was in Formula 3.

“He said about Max back then: he could do it – let’s just put him in!” he added.

The rest is history in the making.

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