Helmut Marko has revealed Max Verstappen initially thought talk of him debuting for Red Bull in the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix was “nonsense”.
After being brought into the Red Bull fold, Verstappen’s first full-time drive was with their junior team, Toro Rosso, debuting at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix.
Just over a year later the Dutchman was on his way to the main Red Bull team, replacing Daniil Kvyat as of the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, a race he famously went on to win as he marked his Red Bull debut in style.
However, as the prospect of that opportunity began to emerge over dinner in Graz, only Max’s father Jos Verstappen sensed such a decision was coming.
As for Max, he was not believing it.
FLASHBACK: SPAIN 2016
Youngest leader of an F1 race ✅
Youngest driver to score a podium finish ✅
Youngest ever race winner ✅
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 12, 2018
Asked by Motorsport.com about this rumour, Red Bull’s driver programme boss Marko said: “That’s right, yes. Jos did realise something was going on and that Max might be driving for Red Bull, but Max thought it was sheer nonsense.
“I called Jos early in the morning and told him we had to meet in Graz. During the lunch that followed, I could not get straight to the point. At the same time, there were all sorts of things going on in England in terms of contracts and preparations, so I had to talk around it a bit.
“It was only at the end of that lunch that I was able to get down to business, when Max was already wondering why he was there at all.
“Anyway, before Max came to Graz he could have known what would happen, especially if he had listened to Jos. (Laughs) Coincidentally, we discussed it over dinner in Austin this year.”
Verstappen was already making F1 history when he debuted in Formula 1 aged only 17, and so to then promote him to Red Bull at only 18 was arguably an even greater risk from the Austrian outfit.
However, as Spain 2016 ultimately showed, Red Bull were right to gamble on their driver.
“The whole Max Verstappen project has actually been a big risk! (laughs),” said Marko.
“But no, with Raymond Vermeulen (Verstappen’s co-manager) and Jos he had professional people behind him, of course.
“With that background and given his performance at Toro Rosso, it was quite logical to promote him.
“Apart from Sergio Perez this year, we have also consistently gone for drivers from our own training at Red Bull Racing.”