Helmut Marko revisits ‘toxic’ Verstappen and Sainz pairing as Red Bull reunion chances grow

Oliver Harden
Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen pose after qualifying at the 2024 Australian Grand Prix

Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen pose for the cameras after qualifying at the 2024 Australian Grand Prix

Helmut Marko has admitted Max Verstappen had a “quite toxic” relationship with Carlos Sainz at Toro Rosso in 2015/16 amid rumours that the pair could be reunited at Red Bull in F1 2025.

Having lost his Ferrari seat to Lewis Hamilton for next season, Sainz is one of the most in-demand drivers on the grid after a spectacular start to the 2024 season, culminating in his victory at the Australian Grand Prix just two weeks after appendix surgery.

Helmut Marko admits Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz Red Bull tensions

The 29-year-old’s third career victory means he remains the only non-Red Bull driver to win a race since the start of the 2023 season, having triumphed from pole position in Singapore last September.

Sainz has been heavily linked with a switch to Sauber ahead of Audi’s highly anticipated F1 entry and could emerge as an option for the likes of Red Bull, Mercedes and Aston Martin.

Speaking in Melbourne, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner admitted he cannot rule out a move for Sainz for 2025, revealing the team are “not in any desperate rush” to finalise their driver lineup with Sergio Perez out of contract at the end of this season.

PlanetF1.com recommends

Follow PlanetF1.com’s WhatsApp channel for all the F1 breaking news!

YOUR VERDICT: Liberty Media’s €4.2 billion deal to buy MotoGP

Sainz made his debut alongside Verstappen at Red Bull junior team Toro Rosso (now RB) in 2015 before the latter was promoted to the senior squad after just four races of the 2016 campaign.

It was widely reported at the time that tensions between the Verstappen and Sainz camps were high as both youngsters fought to catch Red Bull’s attention.

And long-serving Red Bull advisor Marko has admitted that the pair were tough to manage, claiming Sainz was unlucky to be partnered with a prodigious talent like Verstappen at the start of his career.

Asked about Sainz’s rise, Marko said: “For a long time, he lived in the shadow of his father, the two-time World Rally Champion.

“He was unfairly saddled with the image of being the spoiled son of a racing driver whereas on the contrary, Carlos had to fight consistently to get ahead.

“It was his bad luck to get Max as a team-mate.

“The atmosphere between the two at Toro Rosso was quite toxic.

“In the setup we had at the time, I couldn’t see a way of keeping him with us and so he moved to Renault, McLaren and then on to Ferrari.”

Marko’s comments come after former F1 driver Hans-Joachim Stuck urged Red Bull to replace Perez with Sainz, suggesting Verstappen “would sleep worse” with his former Toro Rosso team-mate on the other side of the garage.

He told Eurosport: “If I were the boss of Red Bull, I would use all means possible to find a fair solution to terminate the contract with Sergio Perez. There are certainly clauses in the contract.

“And then I would offer Sainz the cockpit. At the moment there is no one better.

“Firstly, I would like it because competition stimulates business. Then Max would have to accelerate even more, which he can certainly do.

“Secondly, I’m sure Max would sleep worse if he knew that Sainz would be his new team-mate.

“In addition, there comes a day in every career when you lose your status. Verstappen is number one at Red Bull – but at some point that too will be over. Either he is getting too old or a new team-mate is suddenly putting pressure on him.

“Such a situation can result in two things: Verstappen becomes even faster or he falls apart.”

Read next: Before 2021: What Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen said before F1 relationship turned sour