Exclusive Q&A with Red Bulls Helmut Marko 28 Jul 2012
A few days on from his typically outspoken comments about Sebastian Vettels Hockenheim penalty, we caught up with Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko to discuss the German race, his teams chances of retaining their titles, Mark Webbers new contract and more
Q: Helmut, after the penalty against Sebastian in Hockenheim you were quoted as saying it was like handing a chicken thief the death penalty. That was surely a bit thick. Almost a week on, is your feeling the same?
Helmut Marko: What I meant was that the penalty was too harsh for what had happened. But what you didnt read anywhere is that the FIA stewards can only impose this 20-second penalty - there is nothing else in the regulations. I would say that it would make a lot of sense to differentiate this penalty into five, ten and 20 seconds. Not all offences are the same, but right now they tar them all with the same brush - and I dont think that this is correct. I think that a five-second penalty would have done it in this case, which would have meant that he finished third - so going back to the initial situation. That would have been adequate.
Q: So would you say that by letting Jenson Button re-pass the situation would have been solved?
Q: In the end - in such a close championship as we see this year - this penalty could in theory decide the title? Three points can make a world of difference
HM: Well, of course it was an annoying situation, but then think about what weve been already through. We had the issue in Malaysia with Narain Karthikeyan, the retirement in Valencia being in the lead, and now Hockenheim. So the dramas are adding up - each of them a possible championship decider - and it explains for now why Fernando Alonso has a 44-point lead over Sebastian.
Q: Some suggested that because the FIA had to show the white flag over the engine mapping issue, they compensated with the 20-second penalty. What are your thoughts about that?
HM: This is beyond my knowledge. But the fact is that Jenson didnt give him enough space, so where else could Seb go? We looked at the situation many times after the race and, yes, Seb was probably going a bit too briskly to the left side. But we have had such situations before. In Bahrain Hamilton was completely off-track when overtaking, and Kimi Raikkonen some years ago was overtaking not one but a couple of cars way beyond the track (limits) - and nothing happened. But again, I think time penalties should be scaled, so that if the stewards decide on a penalty they have more options than to impose the maximum.
Q: At the moment Red Bull seem to be taking two steps forward and one step back. Is that the wrong impression?
HM: Well, we know that everything is very close this season - and if one factor goes wrong then you lose the winners DNA for that race. I dont think that weve ever taken steps backwards, but sometimes things did not go our way. At all the recent races weve always been at the top - and if we havent been at the very top we probably didnt do the maximum.
Q: So where does that come from? Was winning both titles two years in a row ultimately a bit exhausting for the team?
HM: Well, add together the missed points from Malaysia, Valencia and Hockenheim and we would be even with Alonso. Everything is playing towards Fernando at the moment - and at our end it does not all go smoothly, so we pay the price for it. So yes, it is not all smooth running - but not because our people are exhausted, but because we probably miss that bit of luck right now. Normally there is the benefit of the doubt for the accused. In our case it was more like when in doubt then it goes against the defendant. (smiles)
Q: You have signed Mark Webber for another year. It is probably fair to say that youve never been a huge fan of Mark, but arent you happy that you have him right now - given that both drivers together are taking you closer to defending the constructors championship?
HM: It was a coolly-taken decision about whats the best for the team. Mark started into this season extremely strongly - probably his strongest start into a season ever - so it is natural that you want to keep this situation, and do it at this early stage - contrary to our usual procedures. We simply wanted to get away from the rumours and stabilize our situation.
Q: That leaves the question of how it will work out for Red Bull in the second half of the season. Will lady luck lean more towards you?
HM: We will go about the next ten races as actively and aggressively as possible. We have to attack. And as nobody is kissed by fortune all the time, my guess is that the lucky streak of Alonso will sooner or later come to a halt. I would say that we have it all - the potential of the team and the drivers. But as the change in regulations has hit us more than any other team - eliminating our advantages - we have to come back from there, which gives us an intense time.
Q: There is still a lot of envy around when it comes to Adrian Newey. Are you still aware that you are sitting on a treasure?
HM: Of course we know that, but you also have to see what was built around him - and that we have had continuity for the last four years. No key position has been changed - and I am speaking about some 50 people, or even more. That explains why we are still at the top - and can recover fast from blows. Sure, our competitors shun no chance to create turbulence, but that is obviously part of the game.
Q: Who will be the next champion - and why?
HM: First of all, there are still 250 points to be allocated so there is not even the slightest hint of who will wind up on top in November. But clearly the team and the driver with the least mistakes will win the title. Alonso is the only driver so far who took points at every race. So the key is to win, of course, but if a win is impossible then to take a good chunk of points. Ferrari and Alonso made the maximum out of their potential so far. We on the other hand had two zeros with Sebastian and one with Mark - and that says it all.
Q: That is all too theoretical. Can you name names?
HM: Our main competitor clearly is Alonso, but never underestimate Hamilton. So I would say that our two drivers, plus Alonso and Hamilton will be the top candidates for the championship.
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