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Art collector & hotelier: the other life of Helmut Marko

Published on 20 February 2024 by FORMULE 1 Magazine

This article previously appeared in FORMULE 1 Magazine, on pole for thirty years! For more news on Max Verstappen and Formula 1, visit
Author: André Venema

Purple sectors, milliseconds, competitions, Max Verstappen and Formula 1 are his biweekly adrenaline shot. Art, real estate and his four hotels are a welcome business distraction. Doctor Helmut Marko is much more than just Red Bull’s motorsport advisor. “I like to invest in young artists.”

The world knows him as the tough director of Red Bull Racing. When taking decisions relating to both Formula 1 teams of energy drink manufacturer Red Bull, Helmut Marko rarely lets his emotion guide him, but bases his decision on reason. After all, the millions that his part-time employer invests in the sport must be well spent. As an entrepreneur and avid art collector, the Australian knows the value of money all too well.

Marko now owns four hotels, all in the area of Graz, Austria, his birthplace. The Schlossberghotel, Augarten Art Hotel, Lendhotel and Kai36 are all affordable, immaculate gems. Apart from the owner, the hotels have one other thing in common: art, mostly modern art. It is an important part of their decoration. Painting, sculptures and statues, according to the host, it is a colourful collection. And all the artwork was personally purchased by Helmut Marko. Art is a great passion of the 80-year-old Austrian, perhaps even greater than his passion for motorsport. “I have a completely different life besides Formula 1,” Marko admits. “And that is a good thing,” he adds, “otherwise you’ll become a professional idiot. And I’m not.”

Doctoral degree
At the edge of a swimming pool, on an early Sunday morning in Bahrein, Marko exceptionally wants to talk about his fascination with art and running four hotels. It is a side that only few people know about him, partly because he never brings it up himself. As a driver, he was not directly concerned with the future, he says. At the Karl Franzens University it became clear that he has a good set of brains. Marko studied law at the university in Graz and obtained a doctorate, but the racing life initially offered him more than enough.

That relatively carefree life came to an abrupt early end in July 1972. During the French GP in Clermont-Ferrand, a stone pierced his helmet visor and permanently blinded his left eye. The accident ended his racing career. “After that accident I had a hard time,” Marko admits. “I had always dreamed of Formula 1, and was about to sign a contract with Ferrari. And suddenly it was over. You then fall into a dark hole.”

Marko was only 29 when his promising future in Formula 1 was shattered. “For a long time I was thinking what to do with my future?” The answer to that pressing question was closer to home than he suspected. “My father owned a fairly simple Gasthaus in Graz, with just a few rooms. Should we start a hotel there? During my racing career I had travelled a lot, so I had quite some ideas for a hotel concept.”

The foundation for a new future started there, Marko realised half a century later. “It was very simple: the location was good, but Gasthaus Schlossberg is an old building, from the 1400s. Renovating such a building is quite a challenge. They require a lot of maintenance, and the corridors are small and narrow, and the walls are two meters thick.”

Art hotel
The former Gasthaus has undergone a major transformation. Marko added an artistic element to the ‘individual hotel concept’. “High quality art in the hotels and rooms, with which people can identify,” he says. From lobby to garden, from room to dining room. According to Marko, a good marketing strategy did the rest. Although art has a prominent place in all four of his hotels (for which the daily management is in the hands of women), the Schlossberghotel is considered a real art hotel.

Marko has put a lot of time, money and passion into his life’s work. He affectionally calls the hotels ‘little museums’. “At first, we only had paintings, but now we also have many statues and sculptures.” One of Marko’s favourite artists is the American Frank Stella, whose works sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. “I have a lot of contact with him,” Marko reveals. “He sometimes attends races. He is one of the top five artists in the United States.” There is one downside to Stella, Marko jokes. “He is a Ferrari fan.”

All works of art in Marko’s hotels are originals. When asked whether there are replicas on the wall, he shakes his head slightly annoyed. “No, no. Of course not.” The complete collection now consist of more than thousands of pieces, Marko assures. “It is quite a collection.” The love for art dates from the past. “As young student I was already interested in art. In the evenings we often met with artists, which was always very pleasant.” Marko’s mischievous smile reveals that those meetings were not just about art. 

Common ground
In the autumn of his life, but still full of energy and assertiveness, art is the perfect counterbalance to the dynamics and stress of Formula 1. There is also a common ground, like the eye for talent. “I am especially interested in young art and artists,” Marko says. “That’s what I most like to invest in. It is actually just like with drivers. Seeing, discovering and helping talent: that is the challenge.”

During a Grand Prix weekend, he goes out to discover the culture, but only when possible, Marko confirms. Sometimes there is time for it, but nowadays it is less. “A race weekend is short and very busy. But if there is enough time, I go to a museum or sometimes a big art fair. I once went to China earlier to look at the work of young artists. I bought quite some pieces then. The same in Malaysia. That makes the collection very international,” says Marko. He shrugs his shoulder about its value. An art collector does not think about the money, but about the beauty of the pieces.

Dr. Marko, one last question. Your country has produced great composers. Are you as passionate about classical music as you are about art?
“I like classical music, but light classical music. To be honest, I prefer Frank Sinatra or the Beatles over classical music. Hard rock is not for me, no. Neither is Tyrolean music.” He laughs: “yodelling is for tourists from the Netherlands during après-ski. At home, I have a lot of Maria Callas’ music. When I want to relax, I listen to her music. In our hotels we barely play any music. It’s really minimal, sometimes we have live music, but other than that? We attach great importance to peace and quietness.” 

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