Helmut Marko threatened to end Karl Wendlinger’s career in a call with his mum

Helmut Marko threatened to end Karl Wendlinger's career in a call with his mum

Helmut Marko came dangerously close to axing Formula 1 driver Karl Wendlinger during his career as the Red Bull boss expressed his disappointment to his mum.

Former Formula 1 racer Karl Wendlinger has admitted that Helmut Marko had once threatened to fire him during a phone call with his mum. The Red Bull advisor is well known for his strict standards, and both Wendlinger and his mother were subject to his wrath.

The Austrian driver who spent five seasons in F1 driving for Sauber, March, and Leyton House, rose through the ranks in his own country as Marko was establishing his own career. Furthermore, Marko was managing the 55-year-old in an attempt to secure his entry into the sport.

Before Wendlinger secured his chance on the premier racing series, Marko pushed him relentlessly both on and off the track and there was one particular incident that let him know exactly who he was dealing with as he tried to avoid training.

“There was one thing: they were all afraid when he’s calling,” Wendlinger recounted during a recent interview with Beyond the Grid. “The workshop was in Graz [Austria], it’s around three-and-a-half hours driving from my home in Kufstein.

“Quite often on a Sunday afternoon, the telephone would ring. Mobile phones [didn’t exist] at this time – it was a home phone – and Helmut was on the other end: ‘Okay Karl, tomorrow 9 o’clock workshop [in] Graz.’ And I’d ask, ‘Why? ‘ And he’d reply, ‘Because we have some work to do there.'”

The idea of having to get up early on Monday morning in preparation of his journey to F1 did not exactly excite Wendlinger and this prompted him to devise a plan to avoid Marko’s strategies, although it turned out to be unsuccessful.

“[I thought] ‘When he calls again, I’ll have to do this trip to Graz again,'” he admitted. “I said to my mother, ‘Sunday afternoon when Mr Marko calls, say I’m not at home.’ I wasn’t at home; Okay, I didn’t have to go to Graz on Monday.

“I think he did this two or three times and the third time, he said, ‘Okay, Mrs Wendlinger tell your son if he’s not available again next Sunday, his season is over.’ Then I was back in Graz.”

However, after all the hard work, the early Monday morning trips to Graz paid off and shortly after he landed an F1 seat. He made his debut in the 1991 season finale and went on to mark his first race start in March the following year, albeit his best achievements were while he was working at Sauber.

Wendlinger proceeded to secure four top-10 finishes in 1993 and had demonstrated tremendous potential early the following year before a career-altering incident in Monaco. He only enjoyed one more start before his days in F1 were over, as a crash during practice left him in a coma for weeks.

After recovery, the Austrian went on to take part in various racing series, winning the team’s classification in the Le Mans series in 1999–2000.

Meanwhile, Marko is in charge of Red Bull’s wildly successful driver development program and is still heavily involved in the company’s racing operations.

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