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How Helmut Marko saw his career as an F1 driver end abruptly 50 years ago

How Helmut Marko saw his career as an F1 driver end abruptly 50 years ago

25 June - 20:21 Last update: 21:15
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Today Helmut Marko is known primarily as the influential advisor to Red Bull Racing, but he once had a promising career as a Formula One driver. In a week's time, it will be exactly 50 years since that dream came to an abrupt end, when Marko suffered a severe accident and lost his left eye.

In the early summer of 1972, Austrian motorsport fans followed local heroes Helmut Marko and Niki Lauda through their first full Formula One season. Marko's successes up to that point had mainly been in endurance racing; he had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice in a row. In 1970, he did so together with Austrian Rudi Lins; the following year he won the prestigious race together with Gijs van Lennep.

An abrupt end to Marko's F1 career

On Sunday 25 June 1972, exactly 50 years ago today, Marko completed his last race with the thousand-kilometre race on the then Österreichring. One week later, during the French Grand Prix at the Circuit de Charade in Clermont-Ferrand, disaster struck. Marko was hit by a stone, which was launched by Ronnie Peterson's March. The stone went right through his visor and into his left eye.

The then BRM driver was able to stop his car just in time. "I only wanted to get out because the twelve-cylinder was still almost full of 250 litres of fuel," Marko is quoted by Speedweek.com. "There were twenty cars behind me, so a collision would have had fatal consequences."

At that moment, the Austrian briefly lost consciousness. Disoriented, he came to while being pulled from the car. "I only felt immense pain," he continued. He was then taken to the medical centre and then to a clinic, where the doctor in charge was not present and had to be called.

Marko had to wait for the doctor in charge

Discussions ensued about the condition of Marko's eye and whether it could still be saved. "But the longer the supply through the nerves is interrupted, the smaller the chance," Marko continued. After a few days, the Austrian was transferred to Graz, where he had to recover for a few weeks with both eyes bandaged.

His eye could not be saved, and after a few painful weeks, Marko realised he would not be able to race again. "Once I realised that, I started to reorient my life," he says. Of course, the dream world titles eventually came along with Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen, but the Red Bull advisor experiences the titles very differently to how he would have experienced them as a driver. "You can't compare, but of course they give a certain satisfaction. As a driver it would be completely different, but the successes are in the same sport," Marko concludes.

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