Helmut Marko says an "unhealthy relationship" was a key reason why he promoted Max Verstappen to the main Red Bull team ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr in 2016. Both drivers made their F1 debuts in 2015, with Verstappen finishing ahead in the standings with 49 points to 27, although Sainz did suffer more DNFs. Just four races into the 2016 season, Marko decided to make a change and promote Verstappen to the senior Red Bull team in place of Danill Kvyat- who returned to partner Sainz at the junior team. Sainz himself would leave the Red Bull family for Renault in late-2017, before a switch to McLaren in '19 and Ferrari in '22. However, Marko has revealed that tensions behind the scenes were a factor in the swap.
Reason for Kvyat and Verstappen swap
After the 2016 Russian Grand Prix, Kvyat was demoted, with Verstappen memorably winning the Spanish GP on debut after the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg collided. Kvyat's demotion was originally thought to be in response of his struggles in Sochi, where we rammed Sebastian Vettel twice on the opening lap. However, Marko told Auto Motor und Sport that it was actually a brake problem which was the root cause. "Kvyat was faster than [Daniel] Ricciardo in his first year at Red Bull," he said. "In the second year, from the first day of testing, he got it into his head that there was a problem with the brakes. "He dropped back with speed first and then there were accidents. Suddenly you felt an insecurity. We had to react."
Toro Rosso tensions
About the same time, tensions were bubbling away at Toro Rosso - including in the Australian GP where a frustrated Verstappen hit Sainz. While the drivers were at it, so were their fathers, World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz Sr and one-time F1 podium visiter Jos Verstappen. "We had Sainz and Verstappen at the same time. That wasn't a healthy relationship with Toro Rosso," Marko said. "On the one hand the shrewd politician Carlos Sainz Senior, on the other hand the emotional three-way Jos Verstappen. Sometimes things really got down to business. "With the promotion of Max, we defused it in one fell swoop. Father Sainz was of course offended to death and no longer understood the world. "Internally we sometimes had to take tough action, even if it was to the outside world always looked harmonious."