How Red Bull unearth the next F1 star…and why Max Verstappen was different

Sam Cooper
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen with his hand to his head, speaking with Helmut Marko and Christian Horner. Baku April 2023

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen with his hand to his head, speaking with Helmut Marko and Christian Horner. Baku April 2023

Helmut Marko has detailed his process for recruiting new drivers to Red Bull and how Max Verstappen broke the mould.

The Red Bull advisor has been credited as the mastermind behind their junior academy that has produced the likes of Alex Albon, Pierre Gasly, Sebastian Vettel and Verstappen.

Even at the age of 80, Marko continues to be heavily involved in picking talent for the next generation and has detailed his routine for interviewing potential stars.

Marko described how he likes to sit and chat with the young drivers for 20-30 minutes but in Verstappen’s case, that conversation was a lot longer.

“First of all, I’m watching all of the junior categories races, we also watch go karts,” Marko told the Inside Line F1 podcast. “And then the real thing which makes a difference is a discussion where I sit personally with a driver for 20 to 30 minutes.

“The only exception was Max. With him, I was talking for more than one hour, an hour and a half. But the personal meeting is the most important thing.”

Verstappen ignored interest from the likes of Mercedes to sign with the Red Bull academy in 2014. By 2015, he was in an F1 seat and by 2016, he was racing for Red Bull.

The hiring of Verstappen has proven to be the correct decision many times over with the Dutchman recently overtaking Vettel to have earned the most wins for the team and looks well on his way to a third Drivers’ title.

Red Bull also secured his long-term future in 2022 when they handed him a new five-year deal, a decision that Marko described as a very quick one to get the green light for.

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“We had a lot of independence from the boss,” Marko said of Red Bull’s late co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz. “It was just I explained what roughly we’re doing and it was yes or no. Within three minutes. No discussion.

“I wanted to sign Verstappen up for this very long term contract in 2022. He was our biggest asset, our important thing and he motivated the whole team.

“[Mateschitz said] ‘How much does it cost?’ It was not cheap. ‘Yes, we do it.’

“So that was our big business plan. That’s part of the success of Red Bull Racing and fortunately, with the new management now, we have the same freedom.”