Formula One - On And Off Track Week 2

Berthold Bouman, F1 correspondent

Story Highlights

  • Red Bull and Toro Rosso’s Helmut Marko
  • Verstappen arrested after car assault
  • Formula One urged to boycott Bahrain GP

Red Bull and Toro Rosso’s Helmut Marko

After the recent shock announcement of Toro Rosso who ditched both their 2011 drivers in favor of rookies Jean Eric-Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull and Toro Rosso advisor Dr. Helmut Marko again managed to raise the eyebrows of the Formula One community by bluntly stating both Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari were no ‘winners’.

In an interview with the Italian Gazetta dello Sport the Austrian, who is in charge of the Red Bull driver programme, commented, “They are Grand Prix drivers, but not enough for what we want, which is to have Grand Prix winners.” And he added, “They had their chance for three years and that's enough to evaluate the development of a driver. We didn't see in them the possibility for more.”

Buemi and Alguersuari no winners says Marko
Buemi and Alguersuari no winners says Marko

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A nasty stab in the back of Alguersuari and Buemi, the latter was still hoping he could possibly take over Mark Webber’s seat at Red Bull in 2013, and has signed up as test and reserve driver of both Red Bull sponsored teams. With Marko’s recent comments Buemi’s hopes will probably have been reduced to zero. It was already a nasty surprise for both drivers and Buemi at the time reacted, “I was shocked. I had been told a decision would be made before the end of the year, but I was under the impression that my contract would be extended.”

Spaniard Alguersuari was equally shocked after the announcement, “Just a week ago after karting in Brazil I talked with Helmut Marko and [Team Principal] Franz Tost and they told me they had plans for me in 2012," Marko, meanwhile, defended his decision by saying, “Toro Rosso was created to give young drivers a chance.” And he added, “Toro Rosso is a rookie team, so its function is to look for young drivers and look after their development.”

So, who is this remarkable Dr Helmut Marko? Marko is now 68 years old, and was born in Graz, Austria, and was actually a school friend of the legendary Jochen Rindt. Marko studied law before he started his full time race career and became a doctor of law 1967, and that explains the “Dr” part.

After Rindt’s death in 1970, Marko made his Formula One debut in 1971 during the German Grand Prix, but failed to qualify after he had ran out of fuel. He participated in 10 Grands Prix, started in nine of them, and retired two times. Not exactly the story of a Grand Prix winner one would say.

His biggest achievement was winning the 1971 24 Hours of Le Mans, together with Dutchman Gijs van Lennep, in a Porsche 917K. But his race career abruptly ended during the 1972 French Grand Prix when Marko was hit by a piece of rock that pierced his visor and permanently damaged his left eye, and with one blind eye Marko’s race career was over.

He then started to turn his attention to managing and promoting Austrian drivers and became what we today would call a talent scout. He successfully managed the careers of Austrians Gerhard Berger, who would later become co-owner of Scuderia Toro Rosso, and Sauber driver Karl Wendlinger. In 1994, just two weeks after the deaths of Ayrton Senna and another Austrian driver, Roland Ratzenberger, Sauber driver Wendlinger crashed at the Nouvelle Chicane during the first practice session of the Monaco Grand Prix, in a similar way as Sauber’s Sergio Perez did last season. Wendlinger did make a return to the sport, but lost his speed and retired four races into the 1995 season.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing and Helmut Marko, Red Bull Racing, Red Bull Advisor
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing and Helmut Marko, Red Bull Racing, Red Bull Advisor

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Marko then setup RSM Marko, a race team active in Formula Three and the Formula 3000 series. In 1997 another very talented driver, Juan-Pablo Montoya, became second in the Formula 3000 series racing for RSM Marko. In 1999 Marko was put in charge of the Red Bull driver development programme. It was also Marko who urged his boss Austrian energy drinks billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz to take over the Minardi team at the end of 2005.

Marko now had a Formula One team to nurture ‘his’ drivers. In 2006 Vitantonio Liuzzi and American race talent Scott Speed could not impress and Toro Rosso went home at the end of the season with just one championship point. In 2007 the now 28-year old Speed was dumped after a famous row with Team Principal Tost and was replaced by German Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel scored Toro Rosso’s one and still only victory during the 2008 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Vettel was promoted to the real race team Red Bull, the rest is history as Vettel last year won his second consecutive World Championship title, Buemi took over the wheel from Vettel at Toro Rosso in 2009.

Marko and Tost made a habit of dumping drivers, first it was Speed, later Liuzzi and Frenchman and four-times Champ Car Champion Sebastien Bourdais was unceremoniously ‘released of his duties’ halfway the 2008 season and was replaced with Alguersuari who joined Buemi. Both Buemi and Alguersuari were certainly more successful and Toro Rosso ended 10th in the Constructors’ Championship in 2009, ninth in 2010 and eighth in 2011.

Again, the rest is history, Marko was not at all happy with the performance of both drivers and they lost their race seat. It is clear Marko wants to find other drivers like Vettel and give them a place in his rookie driving school, but stating both were not ‘winners’, was uncalled for and a stab in the back, both drivers performed well last season with a very uncompetitive car, and they still have a future in Formula One, and now being branded by Marko as ‘losers’, will certainly not help them to find a new team.

Verstappen arrested after car assault

During a hearing last Friday, a judge decided Dutch ex-Formula One driver Jos Verstappen remains in custody for another two weeks after a car assault on his ex-girlfriend. Last week on Tuesday night Verstappen got into an argument with his ex-girlfriend who was with him in the van he uses to transport his karts, the woman left the car and started walking home, according to her statement Verstappen followed her and deliberately ran his car into her.

Verstappen and his ex-wife in the Minardi two-seater in 2003
Verstappen and his ex-wife in the Minardi two-seater in 2003

Photo by: Minardi Formula 1

The 24-year old woman sustained minor injuries, after the incident Verstappen brought her home and asked her not to call the police. “To calm him down I told him I would not call the police,” she stated in Dutch paper the Limburger. And she added, “But when I was home and safe, I called 112, I was very lucky not to get seriously injured.” She was treated by ambulance personnel at her house.

Local police then started a search for Verstappen and found his van abandoned outside a holyday resort near the city of Roermond, where the 39-year old Verstappen has a bungalow. On Wednesday morning he turned himself in at a local police station and was immediately arrested.

Verstappen’s lawyer, Mr. Marcel Heuvelmans, refused to comment but did indicate his client denies all charges, nevertheless Verstappen has been officially charged with manslaughter. A local TV station, L1, this Monday reported Verstappen has also been charged with three other offences, but police authorities refused to disclose any details.

According to his ex-girlfriend she had ended the relation with Verstappen in November last year, but said Verstappen didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and later assaulted her in a hotel in Venlo. In 2008 the Dutchman had to appear in court after he had harassed and assaulted his 34-year old now ex-wife in 2007.

In January 2009 Verstappen again had to appear in court and was convicted to a three months suspended prison sentence and a 1650 Euro fine for sending his ex-wife threatening text messages and visiting her house despite a restraining order.

Verstappen, a veteran of 107 Grands Prix, teamed up with Michael Schumacher in 1994 at Benetton, and later drove for Simtek, Footwork, Tyrrell, Stewart, Arrows and Minardi.

Formula One urged to boycott Bahrain GP

Yes, again Bahrain, it is a topic that will not disappear from this season’s agenda, as Bernie Ecclestone has scheduled the event for April 22, a very controversial decision after the race was abandoned last year due to the civil unrest in the Gulf kingdom. Civil rights groups have urged Formula One this time to seriously consider boycotting the Bahrain Grand Prix.

“The government wants Formula One to tell the outside world that everything is back to normal, “ said Nabeel Rajab, Vice President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. “Formula One, if they come, they are helping the government. We would prefer it if they didn't take part. I am sure the drivers and teams respect human rights.”

Also American civil rights groups are concerned, as Rajab claims he was thrown to the ground and beaten up by Bahrain security forces during a protest march last Friday.

Mariwan Hama-Saeed of New York-based Human Rights Watch told the Arabian Business website, “The FIA should consider the serious abuse of human rights in Bahrain and the fact that to this day authorities continue to suppress pro-democracy protests.”

Ecclestone still wants Bahrain GP to succeed
Ecclestone still wants Bahrain GP to succeed

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And she further commented, “I doubt that Formula One can be a success in a country where serious human rights abuses have been committed. The political situation is unstable and polarised in Bahrain.” She also thinks Bahrain is not interested in improving the current situation, “We are very concerned about the government's commitment to implement meaningful reform.”

On Monday, officials of the Bahrain International Circuit reacted and claimed the government has already improved the situation. “Last year, the King of Bahrain commissioned an independent report into alleged human rights abuses, the findings of which were published in November.”

The statement further read, “The report found evidence of human rights violations and made certain general and specific recommendations. The Government has fully acknowledged the findings of the report and is acting swiftly and convincingly on the recommendations.”

The Bahrain Grand Prix forms a fundamental part of the local economy. It is supported by an overwhelming majority of people from all sections of society in Bahrain and represents a symbol of national unity. The independent report was a milestone for Bahrain and we will now work tirelessly to ensure that the race is a great success.”

Ecclestone about the reinstatement of the Bahrain Grand Prix, “I hope we go to Bahrain and there's no trouble -- the race goes on, the public are happy and there are no dramas. That's what I hope.”

And that is of course what we all hope; it is not about Formula One, but about the people of Bahrain. Meanwhile rumors have emerged the Bahrain Grand Prix could be replaced by the Turkish Grand Prix after it was removed from the 2012 calendar.

Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One: On and Off Track”

Formula One - On and Off Track week 1

Also view this week’s edition of the Big Picture

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jos Verstappen , Michael Schumacher , Mark Webber , Karl Wendlinger , Gerhard Berger , Ayrton Senna , Sébastien Bourdais , Scott Speed , Vitantonio Liuzzi , Sebastian Vettel , Roland Ratzenberger , Sébastien Buemi , Sergio Perez , Daniel Ricciardo , Bernie Ecclestone , Jaime Alguersuari , Gijs van Lennep , Jochen Rindt
Teams Red Bull Racing , Sauber , Toro Rosso , Benetton , Minardi
Tags bahrain, bouman, ecclestone, featured, marko, verstappen