Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko reckons Formula 1's youngest-ever driver Max Verstappen has already become the championship's most popular competitor.

Verstappen's popularity in his native Netherlands has been well-documented, but Marko insists the name recognition has now gone a step further, making the 18-year-old F1's top name "worldwide".

"Probably we are lacking strong personalities lately," Marko told

"On top, there are drivers doing their last season, so they are complaining about Max, about safety, about anything.

"With Max, here is someone who is really young with a strong idea of what he wants - and he is not shy of trying to get it, of trying to be successful.

"And the reaction of the fans plays to his advantage. I would say he is probably now the most popular driver on the grid - worldwide."

Recent criticism not at all justified

Verstappen had found himself at the centre of a heated debate over driving standards after the Belgian Grand Prix, where Ferrari duo Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were left dissatisfied with his aggressive blocking.

Marko, meanwhile, saw little problem with Verstappen's driving, arguing the Dutchman was just doing what he needed to do.

Asked about the recent criticism, he said: "Nothing is justified. Max is a different calibre.

"He has the traits of a future world champion and he is just doing what is necessary to get there. It obviously surprises some that this also involves overtaking and defending.

"If there had been something gravely wrong, the stewards would have penalised him."

Gallery: Verstappen now F1's most popular driver worldwide - Marko

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