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Red Bull will not “force” Verstappen to stay if he wants out

Red Bull says it will not force Max Verstappen to stay at the Formula 1 team if the triple world champion decides he wants to leave.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Shameem Fahath

Verstappen currently has a contract to race with the Milton Keynes-based squad until 2028, but his future has been the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks off the back of the turmoil at the top of Red Bull.

Amid what appears to be a power battle for control of the Red Bull empire and its F1 team, suggestions at the weekend that the company’s motorsport advisor Helmut Marko could be forced out prompted some strong words from Verstappen.

He suggested that if Marko went, Red Bull would have a “problem” as that could also leave him deciding that he no longer wished to remain at the squad.

Speaking in Saudi Arabia, Verstappen said: “I've always clearly indicated that he [Marko] has to stay. I can't continue without him.”

Verstappen’s strong words on the matter were viewed by many as a clear political message to Red Bull’s senior management about the consequences of taking action against Marko.

The Dutchman has, however, been less equivocal in his support of team principal Christian Horner – whom his father Jos has openly called to be dismissed to avoid the squad tearing itself apart.

Horner is well aware of the significance of Verstappen’s public backing for Marko, and his claims that he would not wish to stay if he lost his close ally.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing,Helmut Marko

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing,Helmut Marko

Photo by: Erik Junius

However, Horner has made it clear that if Verstappen feels so strongly about not remaining at the team, then he would not hold him blindly to his contract.

“It's like anything in life: you can't force somebody to be somewhere just because of a piece of paper,” said Horner.

“If somebody didn't want to be at this team, then we're not going to force somebody, against their will, to be here. That applies whether it's a machine operator, or a designer, or somebody in one of the support functions that runs through the business.

“Being involved in a team like this involves commitment and passion. Max has that. We've seen that, he's been here since he was 18 years of age.

“I have no doubt of his commitment and passion going forward.”

Horner’s remarks are a notable change in tone from his stance before the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, when he said he had no doubt that Verstappen would see out his contract with the team.

It is understood that at a senior level within the Red Bull energy drinks company, there have been growing frustrations about the way internal problems within the team have been played out in the media through leaks and private briefings.

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing, Helmut Marko, Consultant, Red Bull Racing

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing, Helmut Marko, Consultant, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Marko’s statements to television about a potential suspension, Verstappen’s subsequent quit threats, and further criticisms from his father Jos about Horner in newspapers, have also been viewed as unhelpful in trying to reinstall calm within the F1 operation.

And while Verstappen is viewed as one of the key pillars in Red Bull’s recent F1 success, it is not impossible that if the off-track angst continues unabated, then it could be viewed as a price not worth paying in making any attempt to keep him if he wishes to go.

But while the situation is not ideal, Horner insists that the relationship with his driver has not been impacted.

“It's absolutely fine with Max,” he said. “He's working well within the team. There's no tension, there's no stress, and you can see how relaxed he is around the garage with everybody in the team.

“That's translating into his performance on track as well. So we don't see any issues with Max.”

And while other teams are trying to use the uncertainty at Red Bull to lure Verstappen away, Horner thinks that car performance will ultimately be the deciding factor in what happens next.

“Look, I'm sure every team in the paddock would love to have Max,” added Horner. “But as Toto also said, the best drivers always want to be in the best cars.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Shameem Fahath

“We are a team. Max has achieved his 56th grand prix victory today and his 100th podium, all of which have been in Red Bull Racing cars. As a team, we perform exceptionally well together.

“You can never say never though. If a driver doesn't want to be somewhere then they'll go somewhere else, but as a team, I can't see any reason why anyone would want to step out of this team. I think he has great support around him and he's doing a wonderful job with a great car.”

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