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.”

X44 Racing win 2022 Extreme E championship as Abt Cupra score first race victory

2022 Extreme E Uruguay
Extreme E
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Abt Cupra Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Klara Andersson scored their first win in the Extreme E Energy X Prix in the 2022 finale in Uruguay as Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez survived a chaotic finale to edge the 2021 champion Rosberg X Prix team of Johan Kristoffersson and Mikhaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, by two points.

“There are so many emotions,” Andersson said in Extreme E’s coverage. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. In my second race, first full weekend to be at the top of the podium: it’s big.”

Andersson was behind the wheel at the finish.

Rosberg Racing entered the event with a 17-point advantage over X44, but the standings were close enough that four teams remained in contention in Round 5.

“It’s a crucial weekend for us,” Loeb said in Extreme E’s coverage prior to the race. “We are not in the best position to win the championship, but the only thing we can do is try to win the race and score as many points as possible.”

The top two title contenders each crashed in qualification and were relegated to the Crazy Race, Extreme E’s version of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). For the moment, they had the steepest hill to climb, but then the other two championship contending teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Acciona Sainz Racing failed to advance from their heats.

Only one team advances from the Crazy Race, so the X44 drivers were in a must-win situation to simply keep hope alive.

More: Extreme E 2023 schedule

Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Gutierrez ran wheel to wheel into the first turn at the start of the LCQ.

The Rosberg racer experienced crash damage in that turn that damaged her front steering, but managed to limp back to the pits at the end of her two-lap stint. The team attempted to fix the steering, but incurred a penalty for having too many mechanics in the pit area.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez took the early lead, but knew she would need to sit through a five-second penalty for an incident earlier in the weekend. The female half of the gender equal pair erased the penalty by entering the Switch Zone with a five-second lead before turning the car over to Loeb.

That was all the nine-time World Rally Championship titlist needed to give him the advantage needed to win the Crazy Race.

But the championship was not over yet. X44 Racing needed to finish third or better in the five-car finale to earn enough points for the title and after advancing from the LCQ, they were forced to take the worst grid position.

A chaotic start to the Finale saw Loeb run as high the lead and low as fourth after getting pushed off course during his first lap. And that is how he entered to Switch Zone.

On her first lap, Gutierrez slammed into Molly Taylor. With one lap remaining, X44 and Gutierrez were still in fourth and the title hope was quickly evaporating, but it was announced halfway through the lap that the third-running Andretti United team would suffer a penalty for a Switch Zone infraction. The seven-second deduction for Timmy Hansen braking too late in the zone made the difference in the title.

Coming off a disappointing Copper X Prix when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour crossed under the checkers first, but were relegated to fifth by penalty, the McLaren pair scored their first podium of the season in second.