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REVEALED: The astonishing break clause in Max Verstappen’s contract

Max Verstappen, it can be revealed, has an astonishing break clause in his contract that allows him to walk out of Red Bull if his ally Dr Helmut Marko leaves the team.

The news comes as team boss Christian Horner, defiant after being cleared of charges of improper conduct towards a female colleague, tried to broker a fragile peace with his star driver’s manager in a meeting in Dubai on Monday.

Mail Sport understands that neither Verstappen nor his father, Jos, who wants Horner gone, was involved in the talks ahead of this Saturday’s second round of the season in Saudi Arabia.

Verstappen is signed up to Red Bull until 2028, earning at least £50million per annum. But the fact his future is tied up with Marko’s means the notion of a possible switch to Mercedes is not so fanciful after all.

Marko, an 80-year-old Austrian, is the company’s motorsport adviser. Triple world champion Verstappen fought for him when there moves afoot to shuffle him out of the door last year – manoeuvrings for which Horner was held responsible. It is understood there is still a wedge between the two sides dating back to this dispute.

It has been revealed that Max Verstappen has a break clause in his Red Bull contract

The clause would allow him to leave the team if Helmut Marko (pictured) also moves on

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was cleared of improper conduct last week, but his future remains in doubt

It was announced in January that Marko had signed a new deal to remain in post until the end of the 2026 season.

The Verstappen-Marko contract link also strengthens their hands in the bitter dispute eating the insides of what is currently by far the strongest team on the grid.

Verstappen Snr was seen in discussion with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff here in Bahrain last week, and they met for dinner at the five-star Four Seasons hotel in Manama where they were both staying. It may have been a meeting of friends, as Verstappen Snr told me, but it is hard to believe it was not intended as a shot across Horner’s bows.

Verstappen Snr will not be in Saudi Arabia because he is competing in a rally in Belgium, and may miss a few other races in the early part of the season. He is not typically at every race – perhaps 75 per cent of them.

All parties, including him, may not be sorry about his absence. For the atmosphere was certainly combustible in the Bahraini paddock, with Verstappen Snr having a blazing row with Horner in the team hospitality area. He then told Mail Sport that the team would ‘explode’ if Horner did not quit. He accused him of ‘playing the victim when he is the problem’.

It is believed that Max, who is not a political animal but a focused racer, full stop, wants calmness to break out, so he can get on with his uninterrupted business of winning races. He cantered to victory in Bahrain in what will surely be a surge to a fourth consecutive world title.

Verstappen’s dad, Jos (right) has made it clear that he wants Horner gone

Horner is trying to make peace with Jos as he looks to keep hold of his star driver

As for the ‘peace talks’ in Dubai, it is believed they went smoothly, but how long any ceasefire can hold is open to question given the extent of the bloodletting.

However, Horner’s position looks reasonably secure for now, barring any new front of evidence coming to light. Accompanied by ex-Spice Girl wife Geri in the Gulf before her expected return to the UK ahead of the Saudi Arabian race, he is said by allies to be in good spirits.

Oliver Mintzlaff, now in charge of Red Bull sport and former CEO of RB Leipzig – who has been portrayed as part of the Austrian end of the energy drinks company that objected to Horner’s increasing reach within the organisation – is due to be in the paddock this weekend.

It is probably that his arrival will end up being a tacit show of solidarity with the embattled team principal. 

As if Formula One needed another controversy, the most powerful man in world motorsport is now under investigation for allegedly interfering in a race result, according to the BBC.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, Desmos Mag

president of the FIA, is subject to his own ethics committee, accused of demanding that a penalty handed to Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso at the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix be revoked.

This, a seemingly trumped-up charge, initiated by malevolent forces within and outside the organisation, is centred on a dossier compiled by an FIA compliance officer. 

Mohammad Ben Sulayem (right) has been accused of demanding that a penalty handed to Fernando Alonso (left) be revoked at last year’s Saudi Arabia Grand Prix

The BBC cites an unnamed whistleblower claiming that Ben Sulayem, an Emirati former rally driver, called Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamas bin Isa Al Khalifa, FIA vice-president in the Middle East and North Africa region who was in attendance at the race, to insist a 10-second penalty handed to Alonso for work carried out on his car while serving a previous five-second penalty be overturned.

An adjudication is expected as early as today, and Ben Sulayem, who has handed over all his WhatsApp messages voluntarily, is expected to be cleared of all charges.

It is a bizarre accusation because the results under discussion are reasonably trivial ones. The initial punishment dropped Alonso from third place to fourth. Reversing the decision returned the Spaniard to the podium. He swapped places with Mercedes’ George Russell after the stewards made their ruling in the early hours of the morning.

The FIA said, ‘the matter is being discussed internally’.

Christian HornerDubaiSaudi Arabia

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