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Retro: Helmut Marko, F1 and Endurance driver, winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans… turned Red Bull consultant!

Wednesday July 27, 2022 by René Fagnan

The Austrian Helmut Marko, special adviser to Dietrich Mateschitz, the co-owner of Red Bull drinks, with regard to motorsport, was a racing driver during his youth. An excellent endurance driver, he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1971 and also raced in Formula 1.

Born in Graz, Austria in 1943, Helmut Marko as a teenager befriended other young people from his region, including Jochen Rindt, Niki Lauda and Harald Ertl. The group of young people do the 400 strokes on two and four wheels, setting themselves formidable challenges on the small winding roads of this mountainous region.

After his law studies, Marko, always titillated by motorsport, began to race in Formula Vee, as well as in touring cars, then aboard sports cars with a displacement of two liters.

In 1970, he was recruited by the Martini International Racing team and finished third at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with his co-driver Rudi Lins in a Porsche 908/2LH. The following year, he returned to Le Mans with the same team, but this time co-driving a Porsche 917K with Dutchman Gijs van Lennep. They are unbeatable and cover the greatest distance ever recorded at Le Mans with 5335.313 km!

Marko was fairly busy in 1971. In addition to racing in Endurance, he participated in four races of the European Formula 2 Championship. He retired three times, but crossed the finish line in eighth place on the long Nürburgring.

He also made his Formula 1 debut at the German Grand Prix at the wheel of the private McLaren M7C of the Jo Bonnier team. Poorly prepared, the single-seater broke down on the first lap of free practice and Marko did not get back on board over the weekend.

He immediately negotiates an arrangement with the BRM Yardley team to drive a P153. In Austria, he qualified 17th and finished 11th. He retired with an engine failure in Italy, then finished 12th at Mosport Park in Canada and 13th at Watkins Glen.

Marko victim of a rare accident

In 1972, his BRM carried the colors of Marlboro BRM Austria.

He achieved his best result in the deluge in Monaco with an eighth position, then he finished 10th in Belgium. However, his career came to an abrupt end during the French Grand Prix in Clermont-Ferrand.

Marko was then riding in sixth place behind Emerson Fittipaldi’s Lotus when on lap eight a large Lotus rear tire threw a stone at high speed which struck and punctured Marko’s helmet visor.

He manages to immobilize his car at the edge of the track and is immediately evacuated from the circuit. He is operated on his face at the Clermont-Ferrand hospital, but the doctors tell him that his eye is lost. At 29, he must put an end to his racing career.

Marko then went into business and later became the manager of Austrian pilots Gerhard Berger and Karl Wendlinger. In 1989, he founded his own Formula 3 and F3000 team, RSM Marko.

It was at this time that he was recruited by his compatriot Dietrich Mateschitz who wanted to involve Red Bull in motorsport and, why not one day in F1? Marko accepts the mandate to create a Red Bull sector intended to detect young hopefuls in motorsport. His team is renamed Red Bull Junior Team.

Marko signed drivers such as Sebastian Vettel, Christian Klien, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Daniel Ricciardo, Patrick Friesacher, Neel Jani, Canadians Robert Wickens and Daniel Morad, António Félix da Costa and Jean-Karl Vernay.

Marko is not a patient type. A driver under contract with Red Bull must perform quickly, regardless of the category. If the results are below expectations, the pilot is expelled from the sector.

During 2004, the future of the F1 Jaguar Racing team was terribly dark, because it did not obtain any valid results. A few weeks later, Ford officials put the team up for sale.

Marko and Mateschitz took part in the negotiations and in mid-November, Red Bull drinks finally bought the team, its facilities located in Milton Keynes, its 2005 single-seater and its entry in the F1 World Championship.

Mateschitz places a young ex-F3000 driver at the helm of his F1 team, Christian Horner, but also appoints Marko as a consultant to Red Bull Racing. We understand very quickly that Marko will be the man on the ground for Mateschitz.

The recruitment of Max Verstappen was certainly one of Marko’s best moves. The latter continues to take care of the sector of young Red Bull hopefuls as well as the choice of pilots for the sister team, Alpha Tauri.

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