Red Bull motorsport advisor Dr. Helmut Marko in an exclusive interview about the world championship battle against Mercedes, Max Verstappen, Red Bull as an engine builder, Sebastian Vettel and Mick Schumacher.
Dr. Helmut Marko, Toto Wolff gave you a new nickname in Portugal. Should we now also address you as “Mr. Grumpy”?
(grins) That’s not affecting me. Mercedes and we are technically on a relatively equal level. If we’re going to veer off into the psychological realm, then I’d expect a higher level there, too.
Have things calmed down at Red Bull after Portugal? After all, you accused the Mercedes customers of driving for Mercedes in qualifying …
You have to put that in context. Max is on his fastest lap. And when a radio message like that comes in, it’s clear that you’re angry about it. Sebastian was decisively in the way in the last corner, which didn’t help to improve our position either. And if you’re angry, you have to be allowed to say so.
So you still believe that the radio message to Norris would have been different if Lewis Hamilton had appeared in the rearview mirror instead of Verstappen?
Then they would have said: Do Hamilton a favor (remains serious).
What is your general conclusion after the first three races?
We had three races and won one of them. Of course, we’re not satisfied with that. We lost one race because we went over the track limits. Of course, that’s an offense. But you also have to question the sense of these rules. That’s what even the Mercedes people say: Why draw lines if there’s enough room? What bothers me most of all is the lack of consistency in the penalties. Sometimes there’s a five-second penalty, sometimes a ten-second penalty, sometimes a drive-through penalty. Basically, the question I have is: Is it necessary to have track limits? No. What I understand is that it takes time to adapt the race tracks accordingly. To sum up: We’re beaten below value, but all in all we have the faster car. In Hamilton, Mercedes has a driver who is not overpowering but incredibly strong and who can rise above himself. When he sees an opportunity, he takes it. We can win when everything goes perfectly, but that wasn’t always the case.
How is Verstappen dealing with this? He’s now in the situation for the first time that he has a real chance of winning the world title, but he’s still very young.
We’re celebrating his fifth anniversary at Red Bull in Barcelona. In the meantime, he has matured as a person and as a driver to such an extent that he also has the strength and the nerve to help shape and fight out such a title fight. Max is ready for the title.
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Nevertheless, he has recently been criticized for his small mistakes.
Hamilton also makes mistakes, as we saw at the restart in Portugal. But the consequences of his mistakes are smaller – like in Imola, that can be called luck at most. One thing is certain: Hamilton is even cooler. He can wait for his chance. Max, it has to be said, is rather temperamental in character. Or to put it another way: more impatient. That’s currently working in Hamilton’s favor.
Do you talk about that with him?
Of course we talk about the races. Immediately afterwards he’s too charged up, so he’s not yet open to such discussions. But if it’s clearly evident that things could have been done differently, then he definitely recognizes that. That is also discussed, not publicly and at the right time.
But isn’t his ambition also a good sign?
Yes, and that’s also the DNA of Red Bull Racing. We are a passionate racing team where the battle, the challenge, is paramount. A driver like Max Verstappen fits in perfectly. But you still have to tame that to the extent that you also have the World Championship in mind.
Where does your car have advantages over Mercedes and how long will you be in the development race before you focus on 2022?
We had three race tracks that you can’t put down as characteristic. Bahrain was exceptional because of the temperature, Imola because of the rain, and in Portugal because of the track surface, which builds very little grip. In Barcelona we come for the first time to a characteristically normal race track with normal temperature. To date, our advantage is the qualifying lap. In the race, the pendulum has swung sometimes towards us and sometimes towards Mercedes, depending on the type of tire. We want to win this championship, that’s for sure. But we also want to have a championship-capable car again in 2022. And we have to manage this balancing act. At the moment, everything is going according to plan, the development of the car is continuing, planned until the summer break. We’ll see what the situation looks like by then. It will be more difficult due to the budget limit, because we are limited by resources, but that also affects Mercedes. I assume that the attitude there is the same because Lewis is chasing his eighth title. Also Mercedes won’t say: “We’ll stop development and everything will go to 2022.”
Do you feel an obligation to the sport to finally break the Mercedes dominance?
We have the ambition to become world champion with Max Verstappen. But Mercedes has built an incredibly robust and strong engine. That was the success factor for a long time. Now we’re on the same level with Honda. There’s a peaceful spirit of optimism and passion throughout the team – even in practice. And the TV-ratings were also very, very good worldwide.
How helpful is your experience in the title fight from your time with Sebastian Vettel?
95 percent of the people who won the World Championship titles with Vettel are still there. That means they can handle the pressure. Our pit stops also show that. If we’re over two seconds, it’s already slow for us.
Are the mind games with Mercedes more of an incentive or a distraction?
We defend our positions and we also make our opinions known. Sometimes we feel that Toto is worrying too much about us or about Formula 1 in general. It’s clear that we’re looking out for our own advantage. The fact that the choice of words between two Austrians sometimes gets a bit more explosive has to be seen as a national matter (grins).
At any rate, it doesn’t hurt the entertainment factor …
That’s not what we want. As Red Bull Racing, we also have a different DNA than Mercedes. On the other hand, we’ve got the young challenger, Mercedes the seven-time champion, so it’s a bit explosive when the crown prince wants to topple the old king.
But both teams also have two other drivers in Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas. What role do these two play?
In the last three races, it’s become pretty clear that only Hamilton and Verstappen can fight for the championship. Perez is still having trouble settling in, but he’s getting stronger. In terms of overall performance and consistency, he simply lacks the last two tenths on Max. Bottas isn’t as strong in the decisive moment after all, and he also has weaker days, as you saw in Imola. And at race pace, as we saw in Portugal, Hamilton again put Bottas in his place. The bottom line is that there are only two drivers who are in contention for the championship.
Was your decision in favor of Perez nevertheless the right one?
Yes, there’s room for improvement and he’s improving.
Under what conditions would you declare a team order?
At the moment it’s still too early for team orders. If it comes to that, it will happen under fair rules.
Another topic: Red Bull will also be an engine manufacturer from 2022. What does that mean for you?
It’s an incredible story emotionally. We took over the Jaguar team 15 years ago. The goal was to win one or two races. We never dreamed that we would become world champion four times. With Honda’s withdrawal, the question arose: What do we do now? Becoming a customer team of Ferrari or Renault doesn’t sound that attractive, and it’s not. You only ever get second choice, and when it comes to building the chassis, you’re dependent on what you get from the engine manufacturer. Now we have everything in one house, so we have a situation like Ferrari, where chassis and engine development are combined on the same site. It’s an almost unimaginable dream come true. We are also very grateful to our owners, because this also requires financial commitment. But we are right on schedule. In the first step, we will build and use the Honda engines from 2022 to 2024. And when the new regulations come into force in 2025 – where it is agreed that costs will have to be drastically reduced, which will also mean many standardized parts – this means that it should be possible for a non-experienced engine specialist to design such an engine.
What will the engine look like?
The key data are clear: It will be a V6 engine with a turbo, 50 percent of the power will come from the combustion engine, and the rest from the electric motor.
Your favorite competitor Toto Wolff has already linked you with a brand from the Volkswagen Group. What’s the connection?
He made a very unsubtle statement that we would get the patent rights from Honda and pass them on to VW. That’s complete nonsense, that would be unfair and it’s not planned. As long as the current regulations apply, we are solely responsible for this engine. But the fact that we are open to partnerships in the future, be it for naming the engine or more; that is all possible and also desired, so that our costs are kept within limits. But whether that could be the manufacturer I mentioned or another is completely open at this point.
Your former driver Sebastian Vettel is currently just trailing behind in the Aston Martin. How do you assess his situation?
I’m just an outside observer. In any case, I can’t understand the team’s outcry against this rule change over the winter (cut underbody; ed.). Nine teams get along with it, and Mercedes even wins races on an ongoing basis with the low rake. The procedure was carried out in accordance with the rules. Aston Martin should concentrate on making the car better. But that’s Aston Martin business. Vettel had two bad races. In Portugal, qualifying was better, but in the race he was again without a chance. You can see from Stroll that it’s down to the car.
Should Sebastian have taken the time out you suggested last year?
Sebastian is over 30 and a seasoned personality. He must know what he’s doing. That was his decision. Let’s see what happens next.
But as an old Vettel intimate, your heart must be bleeding.
It’s been bleeding for a long time. I’m not at liberty to make any other statement without detailed knowledge. One can only hope that things will get better.
You are known as a rookie scout. How do you assess the first three races of your own rookie Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher?
Tsunoda had a very good debut in Bahrain, got cocky in Imola with a completely unnecessary crash in Q1 – with a car that was easily fit for Q3. He improved in the race, but was off the pace. His speed is impressive. Also his maturity and confidence. In general, we’re very pleased with him. Schumacher was more or less on a par with Mazepin speed-wise in Formula 2. And I have to say: He has gradually improved and has Mazepin fully under control. He’s becoming more consistent from race to race. I am positively surprised.
A word about Tsunoda: Isn’t cocky better than never seeking the limit?
Yes, we love drivers who let it rip. It’s better to throw a car away once than ten races in which you don’t go to the limit.
Bianca Garloff, Ralf Bach
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