When Marko realised Max's potential as a winner

03/02/2020
NEWS STORY

At a time W Series reveals how many super licence points its championship will be worth this season, it's worth recalling that it was the F1 debut of a certain Dutch teenager that saw the whole super licence system seriously shaken up.

In 2014, just days after being recruited to the Red Bull Junior Team, Verstappen was named one of Toro Rosso's drivers for the following season, replacing Daniil Kvyat who would be moving up to the main team to join Daniel Ricciardo following the departure of Sebastian Vetel to Ferrari.

Weeks later, days before his 17th birthday, Verstappen took to the track in the opening Friday session for the Japanese Grand Prix, thereby becoming the youngest ever driver to participate in a Grand Prix weekend.

In reaction, to the news of the youngster's recruitment by Toro Rosso, which would see him line up on the Melbourne grid aged 17 years 166 days, the FIA overhauled the super licence system, while also introducing a new minimum age of 18.

While the sport's governing body continued to claim that 17 was too young to be racing in F1, the youngster was subsequently nominated for - and won - a number of awards at the FIA's 2015 prize winners gala (top), including Rookie of the Year and Action of the Year.

Aware that he was taking a major gamble, Red Bull consultant, Helmut Marko has revealed when he first became aware of Verstappen's potential.

"It was during a Formula 3 race on the Norisring under treacherous conditions with track conditions changing every lap," he tells Motorsport Magazin. "He was two seconds faster than everyone else.

"I saw straight away that he was a potential Grand Prix winner, and we were already in negotiations to bring him into our junior team. We just did not know in what class to put him in.

"After that race I called Jos and said: 'Jos forget everything, we go to Formula 1 next year'. After which it was quiet on the other end of the line for a long time. 'Jos...? Jos...? Jos...?'

"I did not get a response and I have to admit that I usually make calls very early and I expect Jos had not completely woken up at the time."

Reflecting on 2019, the first year of Red Bull's partnership with Honda, and a season in which Verstappen scored three victories, Marko said: "The conclusion we came to is positive, for which we mainly have to thank Honda.

"We did not have engine damage or technical issues with the drivetrain. We did change engines and taken a grid penalty for that, but that was a deliberate choice. This had nothing to do with the reliability, but because of power gains and development.

"The cooperation went very well straight from the first test day and is only getting better," he added. "Honda did what they promised. We are pleased, we have won three races, and five were within reach. The chassis was not the best, the new rules for the front wing caused us many issues. Only on the Red Bull Ring we started to be competitive."

Looking ahead, the Austrian once again emphasises that Red Bull must be on the pace and competitive from the outset.

"The preparations go very well and in comparison to last year we are clearly ahead of schedule. On February 12th we will perform the shakedown at Silverstone circuit and before that the car will be on the test bench.

"In the past it has been our weakness to start the season with a disadvantage. But I believe we will prevent that with this preparation."

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Published: 03/02/2020
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