The ‘unlucky’ driver who fell short in Red Bull’s ‘clear’ driver choice

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 reckons Carlos Sainz was “unlucky” to have Max Verstappen as his Toro Rosso team-mate as Red Bull could only keep one of them given their “toxic” relationship… and they went with Verstappen.

Today the 26-year-old is a triple World Champion with 54 wins on the board while Sainz has managed just two Grand Prix wins.

Sainz and Verstappen joined Red Bull’s junior team, known as Toro Rosso, in 2015 but it was a contentious relationship, not helped by their fathers, Carlos Sainz Snr and Jos Verstappen, pushing their interests in the background.

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Amidst ignored team orders, the growing rivalry was cut short when Red Bull made the call to promote Verstappen to the senior team four races into their second season on the grid.

He has since gone on to achieve huge success with 54 Grand Prix wins, three Drivers’ Championship titles, and numerous records.

Sainz, who left Toro Rosso to join Renault in 2017 before moving to McLaren and now Ferrari, has just two race wins to his name.

Marko reckons it could’ve been a different story for the Spaniard had he not been up against Verstappen in his early F1 days.

“Sainz is, without a doubt, a great driver. He was almost on par with Max in Toro Rosso,” Marko told Marca.

“The bad thing for him is that he was unlucky to have Verstappen as a team-mate.”

While Verstappen scored 49 points during their year together at Toro Rosso, Sainz bagged 18 with their rivalry spilling over at the Australian and Singapore races.

“The atmosphere between the two at Toro Rosso was quite toxic,” admitted Marko. “With the configuration we had then, I didn’t see a way to keep him with us, so Carlos went through Renault, McLaren and then he ended up at Ferrari.”

“Sainz was almost at the same level as Max Verstappen… almost,” he added. “But when we had to choose between Max and Carlos, it was clear what we should do.” recommends

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Marko was quick to highlight his former driver’s strengths and revealed the Spaniard was quicker than Red Bull’s four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel in the fast corners during his first test for the team.

“For a long time, he lived in the shadow of his father,” he said. “He was unfairly burdened with the image of being the spoiled son of a racing driver while, on the contrary, Sainz had to constantly fight to get ahead. He was very fast in the junior categories.

“In his first F1 test at Silverstone, from the beginning, he was slightly faster in the fast corners than Sebastian Vettel, who, at that time, was our reference.”

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