Max Verstappen revealed as a Red Bull junior he used to ignore the early-morning calls from Helmut Marko to get his sleep instead, but does not think that annoyed him, quite the opposite.
Verstappen has joined Sebastian Vettel as a multi-time World Champion success story of the Red Bull Junior Team, securing his third title with an unprecedented display of dominance in F1 2023, winning 19 of the 22 grands prix held.
Never someone to be shy about doing things his way, Verstappen took a trip down memory lane to his days as a Red Bull junior when programme boss, the stern Helmut Marko, was already finding this out.
Max Verstappen slept through Helmut Marko calls
Not someone who tolerates underperformance or excuses, not many Red Bull juniors would take the risk of upsetting Marko through off-track means, though a young Verstappen did not really care.
The Dutchman recalled how he would sleep through Marko’s calls early in the morning, calling him back later once he had woken up at the time he wanted to. In time though, he believes Marko grew to like this clear display of setting “boundaries”.
“I just didn’t answer,” Verstappen told Motorsport-Magazin.com. “I thought to myself, I’m not going to answer the phone at that time, I’m still asleep. I then simply called him back at 10.00 a.m. or whenever.
“At some point, I think he understood that I wouldn’t answer his calls at 7.30 or 8.00 am either. I think he also likes that in a way, because you’ve set your boundaries and he’s the same.”
Verstappen and Marko are rather alike in their approach, Verstappen saying as much by describing their relationship as “very honest, very straightforward, very open”.
“That’s how I’ve approached my entire career anyway: If it’s sh*t, it’s sh*t and if it’s good, it’s good,” Verstappen added on the dynamic with Marko. “There’s nothing in between. It’s either sh*t or it’s good.”
And Verstappen made it clear that Marko, who has been with Red Bull Racing since the very beginning as their senior advisor and young driver programme boss, is “important for the team” as he drew attention to a particular masterstroke from the Austrian.
Engine manufacturer Honda were in a tricky situation when their McLaren reunion broke down by the end of 2017 over poor performance, but Red Bull threw them a lifeline in a partnership initially involving supplying their junior team for 2018.
That deal expanded to the main Red Bull team for 2019, with Honda having powered Verstappen to three World Championships since and Red Bull two Constructors’ titles.
“It was an incredible decision by Helmut to switch to Honda,” Verstappen declared.
“I don’t think everyone was convinced at the time. But fortunately it is now paying off.”
The F1 paddock waits in anticipation as Red Bull prepare their RB20 for F1 2024 competition, looking to build on the daunting benchmarks for success set by Verstappen at the wheel of the RB19.