Saudi meetings ease Red Bull saga – for now

Sun, 10 March 2024, 07:00

Mar.10 (GMM) The scandal and power struggle that has coloured the start of Red Bull’s 2024 season looks to be easing – for now.

After Max Verstappen spoke out in support of his newly-embattled mentor Dr Helmut Marko in Saudi Arabia, high-ranking officials gathered for key talks.

The result? Marko, having warned that Friday may be his last day working for the energy drink company, is still in place – easing speculation that Verstappen himself, and potentially Pierre Wache and Adrian Newey as well, might be the next departures.

When asked if triple world champion Verstappen is staying put rather than making a sensational switch to Mercedes, Red Bull’s sporting CEO Oliver Mintzlaff said in Saudi Arabia: “Of course – he has a contract.”

And 80-year-old Marko? “Sure,” Mintzlaff, appointed co-CEO in the wake of Dietrich Mateschitz’s late 2022 death, added.

The easing of tensions followed a meeting between Marko, Mintzlaff, and also Red Bull’s beverage business CEO Franz Watzlawick – also in Jeddah this weekend.

“Sure, as always,” Mintzlaff told Sky Italia when asked if the meeting with Marko went smoothly. “All I can tell you is that we had a calm conversation.

“I’m here to support the team and that’s all I can say,” he insisted.

Later, Watzlawick was seen in the paddock laughing with and even embracing the scandal-struck Red Bull Racing team boss Christian Horner, who seems relieved at the easing of tensions – for now.

It had earlier appeared that Horner was trying to end the saga by moving to oust Marko. “Dr Marko is the consultant for Red Bull GmbH,” Horner told Sky Deutschland on Saturday.

“Their discussions were about that, not about the team. As for Max, he’s an important member of our team and a wonderful driver, but everyone has their role to play and no individual is bigger than the team.

“That is the only way to achieve the results that we are seeing now.”

Marko, meanwhile, said on Saturday: “It was a good conversation. Calm has to return to the team now. That’s a priority.

“We agreed on all points and I’ll carry on, but there has to be calm.”

The Austrian also thanked Max Verstappen for his public support a day earlier.

“That was very impressive,” Marko said, “and I’m very grateful to him. Max is one of the few here who has strength of character and shows loyalty.”

He also slammed as “nonsense” rumours that he was behind the public leak of Horner’s private messages with a female staffer, laughing that he can “barely” use his own mobile phone.

“I deliberately stayed out of it,” Marko insisted. “It’s absurd. I haven’t even seen the report or any of the conversation history.”

However, Max’s father Jos is still making waves in the media. Whilst taking part in a rally in Belgium, the former F1 driver said he thinks it’s “too late” for Horner to try to extricate himself from the scandal.

“But he has the support of the Thai owner so I think he will stay for the rest of the season,” Verstappen senior is quoted as saying by Bild newspaper.

When asked about Jos’ latest comments, Horner said: “I realise what he said. But as CEO and team boss, I am responsible for making it work and it’s going well.

“Everyone has their part to play.”

Marko said Mintzlaff was due to meet with Red Bull’s 51 percent Thai shareholder Chalerm Yoovidhya in Dubai on Sunday.

At the same time, rumours are still swirling that Ferrari is using the unrest at Red Bull to try to woo technical director Pierre Wache to Maranello.

And Italian insider Leo Turrini wrote in his Quotidiano blog: “Everyone assumes that Adrian Newey is considering a proposal from John Elkann.

“It is even obvious: having taken (Lewis) Hamilton, the Ferrari president would close the circle with another spectacular acquisition.”

Former F1 driver Ralf Schumacher has been critical of Horner throughout the saga, but he also thinks Marko played a role in setting up the current unrest.

“Dietrich Mateschitz made plans to sell 50 percent of the team to Porsche precisely because he foresaw all of this happening,” he said. “Helmut Marko was involved in that project and could have followed it through and stopped all of this, so I think he can only be angry with himself.

“But now Red Bull’s entire structure has cracked instead,” added Schumacher.

“At the heart of this story is one man – Christian Horner. He started it all, striving to use all of his power to maintain complete control over the team.”

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