George Russell joins Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes
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Red Bull’s advisor Helmut Marko has revealed the team had held talks with McLaren’s Lando Norris in the past, but added they were pleased to roll the dice on Max Verstappen from such a young age.
Red Bull took a huge gamble on Verstappen in 2016, as they promoted the 18-year-old mid-season to the main squad to replace Daniil Kvyat, who was moved across to Toro Rosso.
The Dutchman’s career was catapulted into the limelight with a win on debut at the Spanish Grand Prix, holding off 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen after the two Mercedes had knocked each other out on the opening lap.
Since then the 24-year-old has gone from strength to strength, and is now currently in a fierce battle with the seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton in pursuit of his first championship title.
”I am proud that we dared to put Max in Formula 1 at that age,” began Marko, speaking to oe24.at. “He has never let me doubt that it was the wrong decision. He is always super focused and nothing can distract him from achieving his goal.”
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However, when Red Bull decided on Verstappen, many other young talents were coming through the ranks, like William’s George Russell, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and of course Norris.
Marko added: “Norris has caught my eye before, but Max is still at the top of my rankings because he is capable of making a fast run straight away, in all conditions. He showed that again in an impressive way in Russia. There he almost won the race if he had gone in one lap earlier.’’
Norris joined McLaren as simulator driver in 2017, before becoming reserve driver in 2018, then being promoted to a race seat in 2019.
But it was a gamble for Norris, with McLaren ending the 2018 season sixth in the standings, the Constructors’ Championship as one of the slowest cars on the grid.
However, after making his debut in 2019, the Briton said staying with McLaren was a no-brainer when his contract was up for renewal earlier this season.
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He said: “We were a long way behind the midfield (three years ago) and this year we are at the front of it, if not ahead of it. That is one big confidence booster, seeing how they got their act together.
“I quite often go around the factory, checking in on everyone and seeing the progress and the work they’re doing, and it’s very reassuring and encouraging to see how hard they’re working.
“The structure we have in place looks very good and I think we are in a much better position than we were a few years ago.
“That is good for now but also hopeful for the future and encouraging. I have the confidence in them and they have the confidence in me and hopefully we can put it together and make that next step.”
With Verstappen tied in with Red Bull until 2023, his team-mate Sergio Perez would be the only change at the team ahead of the new season.
But with the likes of George Russell confirmed for Mercedes, Marko said he would be keeping a keen eye on the younger generation.
”Next year we will see how good he really is,” said the Austrian regarding Russell, revealing Red Bull had talks with Norris but adding: “But he’s tied to McLaren for the long term. We are sticking to our own way.”
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