Marko: Verstappen now F1’s most popular driver worldwide

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Red Bull Formula 1 advisor Helmut Marko believes that Max Verstappen has become the series’ most popular driver worldwide as a result of his exciting on-track actions and honest comments.

Verstappen, 18, came under fire over the Belgian Grand Prix weekend following on-track clashes with Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.

Paddock consensus has been split on Verstappen. While some saw his moves as over-stepping the mark, others praised his brave on-track approach.

In an exclusive interview with the official F1 website, Marko hit back at Verstappen’s critics and compared him to a young Michael Schumacher.

“Nothing is justified,” Marko said of the criticism.

“Max is a different calibre. He has the traits of a future world champion and he is just doing what is necessary to get there.

“It obviously surprises some that this also involves overtaking and defending. If there had been something gravely wrong the stewards would have penalized him.

“It is a bit like when Michael Schumacher came in. I remember a race in Hockenheim when there was nearly a fistfight between him and Ayrton Senna – Senna the top dog at this time and Schumacher the new hopeful.”

Marko believes that Verstappen’s actions have gone down well with fans, who seek personalities such as that of the young Dutchman when following F1.

“We are lacking strong personalities lately,” Marko said.

“On top, there are drivers doing their last season so they are complaining about Max, about safety, about anything.

“With Max here is someone who is really young with a strong idea of what he wants, and he is not shy of trying to get it, of trying to be successful.

“And the reaction of the fans plays to his advantage: I would say he is probably now the most popular driver on the grid – worldwide.”