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Marko: New Verstappen contract ‘far from’ Hamilton, Vettel deals

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Red Bull Formula 1 advisor Helmut Marko has hit back at comments from Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda about Max Verstappen’s recently-signed contract, saying it is “far from” the worth of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s deals.

Verstappen put pen to paper on a new three-year deal at Red Bull in October, surprising the F1 paddock amid links to seats with Mercedes and Ferrari for 2019.

The deal for the youngest race winner in the sport’s history was rumored to be one of the most lucrative in F1, with Lauda jibing that Mercedes could have saved Red Bull some money by holding talks with Verstappen.

“We never offered [Verstappen] a contract,” Lauda told Red Bull’s in-house TV channel, Servus TV.

“I have a good relationship with Helmut, we usually share an airplane. But when he is getting stubborn, and thinks that something could be taken away from him, he immediately signs a contract. He went to Austin with [Verstappen’s] father and signed.

“If we had talked before, you would have saved money. We never talked to him about money.”

Marko responded by saying Mercedes was powerless to reject four-time champion Hamilton’s demands ahead of upcoming talks, and stressed Verstappen’s contract was not in the same realm.

“Thanks for trying to help us save money. We can’t help you, you have no alternative for Hamilton, you have to pay him what he demands,” Marko said.

“We guaranteed that our most important people are committed until 2020 and all this convinced him.

“Of course, he used the chance to get a salary rise, it’s within reason.

“But he’s far from Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel. When he wins championships he can reach that level.”

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.