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Verstappen defends Marko as mentor faces Horner leak probe

Max Verstappen launched a powerful defence of his mentor and Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko on Friday when confronted by reports that the Austrian may face a possible suspension in the aftermath of the Christian Horner saga. 

The three-time world champion insisted that Marko, 80, must keep his job when he spoke soon after taking pole position for Saturday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The 26-year-old Dutchman, whose career has been overseen by Marko, was clear in outlining his feelings. 

“From my side, I have a lot of respect for Helmut, and what we have achieved together,” said Verstappen. 

“It goes back very far. My loyalty to him is very big and I have always expressed this to everyone within the team, to everyone high up, that he is an important part in my decision-making for the future within the team. 

“It is very important that he stays within the team, including of course everybody else, because it is a team effort and it is very important that we keep the key people together.

“I feel like if such an important pillar falls away, what I have said to the team, that is not good for my situation as well. For me, Helmut has to stay.”

Earlier, Marko had explained to Austrian broadcaster ORF that he was aware of a possible suspension -– widely believed to be because he is suspected of being the source of leaks to news media about Red Bull’s investigation into the conduct of team boss Horner.

“An internal investigation has been opened by the parent company Red Bull into Helmut Marko who is suspected of being at the origin of the leaks to the press in the context of the Horner affair,” a source told AFP. 

‘Peace in team’

Marko admitted that a suspension was not out of the question.

“I would say that it is difficult to judge, or let’s say that in the end I will decide myself to what I’m doing,” he said. 

“The theoretical possibility (of a suspension) still exists. It’s a very complex matter. Once again, we want peace in the team. 

“This championship will be difficult enough with 24 Grands Prix and we must concentrate on that.”

Horner’s accuser, a female team-mate who claimed she had been subjected to “inappropriate behaviour”, was suspended on Thursday.

Horner, 50, has strenuously denied the claims and was cleared by Red Bull following an internal investigation. 

He told reporters in Jeddah on Thursday it was “time to look forward and draw a line”.

“A grievance was raised, fully investigated and it was dismissed. We move onwards.”

However, the fresh controversy over Marko will only serve to add more intrigue to the power struggle seemingly going on at Red Bull.

“He built this team together with Dietrich (Mateschitz) from day one and he’s always been very loyal to the team and to everyone within the team to make sure that everyone would keep their positions from back in the day,” added Verstappen.

“I think it’s also important that you give the man a lot of respect for what he has done and that comes back to loyalty and integrity. So it is important that he stays part of the team.”

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