Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko, one of the leading figures in the dominant Formula One team, apologised on Friday for blaming Mexican driver Sergio Perez’s fluctuating form on his ethnicity.
The 80-year-old Austrian, a former racer who was a close friend of Red Bull’s late owner Dietrich Mateschitz, issued a formal statement via the www.servustv.com website.
“I would like to apologise for my offensive remark and want to make it absolutely clear that I do not believe that we can generalise about the people from any country, any race, any ethnicity,” he said.
“I was trying to make a point that Checo (Perez) has fluctuated in his performance this year, but it was wrong to attribute this to his cultural heritage.”
Marko had made his remarks on the energy drink company’s television station following last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
“We know that he has problems in qualifying, he has fluctuations in form, he is South American and he is just not as completely focused in his head as Max (Verstappen) is or as Sebastian (Vettel),” he said then.
It was not the first time Marko has referred to Perez as a South American, although the Mexican comes from Guadalajara which is geographically in North America.
South America has also produced more Formula One world champions than any country other than Britain and some of the sport’s greatest drivers.
An attempt by Marko to clarify his comments only dug a deeper hole.
The www.oe24.at website on Friday reported Marko as saying: “It wasn’t meant that way. I meant that a Mexican has a different mentality than a German or a Dutchman. But who knows, maybe it’s controlled.”
The initial comments made headlines in Mexico and across the internet.
Mexican Grand Prix organisers expressed their support for Perez in a statement.
“Inappropriate comments have no place in any environment, including sport. It is important that measures are taken to prevent it and that apologies are made when necessary,” they said.
“We invite everyone to build a more respectful and united Formula One community, encouraging healthy competition both on and off the track.”
While Marko attends races in Red Bull Racing uniform, he reports to the energy drink company and is not an employee of the British-based champions.
“This cannot keep happening to Sergio Perez,” www.the-race.comhad declared earlier.
“He deserves better than to have to grin and bear derogatory remarks from a senior figure in Red Bull’s Formula One organisation. The way Helmut Marko talks about him needs to stop.”
The @RBR_Daily fan page on social media site X, previously Twitter, also condemned Marko’s comments.
“Such comments will not be tolerated. A racial stereotype was used to criticise his performance which is absolutely disgraceful and inexcusable,” it said.
Perez joined Red Bull in 2021 with the team looking for a solid team mate to support Dutch driver Max Verstappen, who is now heading for his third world title. Germany’s now-retired Vettel won four for Red Bull from 2010-13.
The Mexican has won six races, two of them this season, and has a contract for 2024.
He is second overall in the championship but is 145 points behind Verstappen after 14 of 22 races and his future after 2024 remains uncertain.
Marko did compliment Perez for finishing second in Italy last weekend, a race that handed Verstappen a record 10th win in a row.
“He had a very good race. Overtaking three drivers, in George Russell and the Ferraris, was not easy,” said the Austrian.