Max Verstappen - victory 2019

Helmut Marko in an exclusive interview about Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel, the new rules and more.

Dr. Marko, you recently replaced Pierre Gasly with Alexander Albon at Red Bull. How hard was it to make this decision?
Marko (76): Such decisions are never easy. But we had to react. After all, it’s also about who drives next to Max Verstappen at Red Bull Racing next year. Alexander Albon already feels up to the job. Gasly should regain his self-confidence at Toro Rosso. However, a decision for 2020 hasn’t been made yet.

Why Albon and not Kvyat?
Albon needs the chance now to prove himself at the next level. We know Kvyat. We know what he can do.

For example, he proved what he is capable in Hockenheim. By the way, that must have been a very special podium for you: Verstappen in front of Vettel and Kvyat. All three have been your proteges from your junior high school …
I wasn’t aware of it at first. Remember, Albon was also among the first six. Certainly, I was fascinated by this unique race when I was standing under the podium. The last time I saw such a dramatic race with such outstanding driver performance was at Donington in 1993, when Ayrton Senna won in the rain so well.

What do you look for in a young talent? What is important
Speed! That’s the most important.

Jos Verstappen said that you talked to Max for an hour and a half at your first meeting: what do you ask in such a first meeting?
I usually talk for a maximum of 20 minutes. But the conversation with Max was different. It’s just how it turned out.

Do you deliberately provoke these young pilots during one of your “job interviews”?
That’s part of it, too. It’s a form of conversation. A kind of stress test.

Helmut Marko 2019
Helmut Marko. Credit: @wooschneider

Max Verstappen is only 21. What makes him special at such a young age?
Relative to his age – Vettel was older – Verstappen is the fastest driver we have ever had. Add to this is his experience. He hasn’t made a mistake since the race in France in 2018. He can always drive at the limit, insanely fast, without ever losing the overview. For example, if our engineer tells him his right rear tire is ten degrees too hot, it reacts immediately. Then he is capable of lowering the temperature within two laps, but without losing track time. That’s phenomenal!

Last year, he still made some minor mistakes: Are they just part of the maturing process?
Yes, certainly. In the beginning, his immense ambition often stood in his way. He always wanted to be the fastest, even in any free practice that actually is there to set up the car correctly. In Monaco, he had a winning car. Nevertheless, he threw it into the planks just because Sainz was in front of him. This year is a completely different season for Max. The discussions with his race engineer have become much, much better. The quality of the conversations has improved enormously…

Do you see parallels between Max and Sebastian Vettel, who won four World Championship titles with Red Bull?
Both are absolute alpha dogs who put everything in their lives behind to achieve their goals and to live for their sport.

How important is a good environment for a driver?
When you’re under such pressure, you need a team that demonstrates it is completely behind you! Max had a somewhat difficult time decoupling from his father. That was understandable. He practically spent years day and night with his father. In our system, however, that was no longer possible for Jos.

How optimistic are you that Red Bull can achieve its goal of making Max the youngest world champion ever?
This year the chances are rather low. But as long as it is mathematically possible, we won’t give up. It’s more realistic next year. The rules of the cars remain the same and Honda has presented their future plans that make us very confident.

Max is still very young at the age of 21. Where are his limits?
We haven’t seen his limits yet. There will always be an increase. In Hockenheim, he was extremely fast in the rain, at times five seconds faster. How he organized the restarts was also extremely good. But, as I said: He is far from his limits.

Do we already see the mega-fight of the two best driver – Max vs. Lewis Hamilton?
At the moment, it isn’t a fair fight, yet. Mercedes still has the better package. We will only see the mega-fight when both have approximately the same material.

Can Sebastian Vettel still get involved? Or will it be his teammate Charles Leclerc?
Sebastian has to get involved if he wants to reach his goal of becoming Ferrari World Champion. I’m convinced he can achieve this. But the question is: does he still want it?

What do you mean?
Politics is part of it. He’s not the type for it, but I think he has to be political at Ferrari otherwise he won’t achieve his goals. He just has to overcome his own barriers.

Could you also imagine Sebastian returning to Red Bull?
As far as I know, Sebastian has a Ferrari contract until the end of 2020. That’s why it’s a nuisance talking about it now.

How satisfied is Red Bull in finding new rules for 2021?
It’s a compromise-level gathering. That’s just how it is. Something has to be decided soon so that we can do jour jobs appropriately.

Red Bull has threatened to leave F1 under certain conditions. Is that no longer the case thanks to Max’s achievements?
Of course, Max is an important part. But we have shown time and again that we can become world champions with other drivers. Vettel achieved it four times, Daniel Ricciardo certainly had the potential. But the biggest requirement is that we have a competitive engine. We do not want to have a situation where we have to ask for an engine and beg. Working together with Honda has been encouraging. Our cooperation is already very good and is getting better. But Honda is also waiting for the new regulations before they decide to continue their work in F1.

*This article was first published in German at autobild.de/motorsport.

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