The 2017 season proved another extremely busy one for Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko, with the Austrian - who oversees both Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso - having to deal with multiple driver switches as well as a host of power unit-related wranglings. As the year comes to a close, we asked Marko to reflect on a far-from-dull 12 months…
Q: Helmut, you are famous for being a no-nonsense guy. Can you talk us through your view of 2017 for both Red Bull teams? Let’s start with Red Bull Racing, and your views on the car, drivers, power unit and circumstances…
Both drivers developed from last season. They pushed each other to the next level - and hopefully next year to the very top!
Helmut Marko on Ricciardo and Verstappen
Helmut Marko: The start of the season was not good. We had correlation problems that had forced us to start the season with a non-competitive chassis. We were able to change that at the start of the European season in Barcelona – and from Budapest onwards I would say that we had the competitive chassis we had in mind. I would even go so far as to say that sometimes we had an outstanding chassis! Engine-wise – and this was no secret – we had a lot of reliability problems, which hindered the engine manufacturer in further power developments.
On our drivers, Ricciardo struggled a bit in the first half of the year but then adapted and on some occasions was at the same speed – and sometimes even faster – than Max (Verstappen). My verdict is both drivers developed from last season. They pushed each other to the next level and hopefully next year to the very top!
On the circumstances – or let’s say luck – we had more than ten DNF’s. Picture this! This outstanding record speaks for itself. Without that we would have been significantly further up in both championships - P2 would very likely have been ours.
Q: And what about Toro Rosso? The car, the drivers, the power unit and the circumstances?
HM: Toro Rosso started reasonably. Then they ran into unbelievable reliability problems - unbelievable! Also in terms of the car development, it was not what it should have been. Now they are focused on next year and their cooperation with Honda. Since the announcement all their efforts have been going into that.
The drivers? All the drivers the team started the season with were gone at the end! (Laughs) [Carlos] Sainz is loaned to Renault; [Daniil] Kvyat is gone, so Toro Rosso had to restart in midseason with two blank pages. I think for the circumstances [Pierre] Gasly and [Brendon] Hartley did really well. And the good news is that Brendon doesn’t have to switch anymore between Porsche and F1, so I am sure for next season Toro Rosso has a very promising driver line-up.
Q: Coming back to Red Bull Racing, in your evaluation you seem to favour Max over Daniel: why?
HM: I didn’t favour him! But in qualifying he was most of the time faster. With seven DNF’s his season was not a walk in the park and sometimes his morale was really down – but it was a steep learning process for him and he came out better than he was before. His two wins were the proof. We don’t have a number one. Both drivers are equally treated and it is up to them to define the pecking order. I will always love the faster one! (Laughs)
I am very impressed with the facilities that they have – and their determination to win. It is just a matter of bringing everything together
Helmut Marko on Toro Rosso's new engine partner, Honda
Q: Why did Daniil Kvyat crack under pressure?
HM: Unfortunately we don’t know why. Maybe because of that we couldn’t cure it. In his first year in F1 he was a revelation, often being quicker than Ricciardo - that’s why we moved him to Red Bull Racing. But then suddenly his curve started to run south. This happens sometimes unfortunately. We gave him more than one fair chance, but he could not use his potential. That’s how it sometimes goes.
Q: Brendon Hartley – Toro Rosso have never had such an old rookie! Was he the best available?
HM: I can only say Red Bull is different, so why not have a mature rookie? And we didn’t have any of our junior drivers ready, so we started to look around. The fact is Brendon looks like a twenty year old – maybe we even could sell him as a teenager! (Laughs) Nevertheless, yes, hiring Brendon was out of the norm – a different story – and we are happy with him.
Q: He looks like an easy-going person compared to Kvyat, who was perhaps too much of a thinker…
HM: …let’s hope it was thinking! When you looked at his reading and music choices he was pretty intellectual…
Q: Honda: what expectations do you have? And is it a cooperation you will be looking at with a view to possibly extending it to Red Bull Racing in 2019?
HM: We are very happy with the Toro Rosso and Honda cooperation. Toro Rosso will put all its efforts into making a competitive chassis. We do believe in Honda - otherwise we wouldn’t have made that deal. I am very impressed with the facilities that they have - and their determination to win. It is just a matter of bringing everything together and we believe that this moment will arrive sooner than everybody is expecting. We will observe very closely - beyond 2018 everything is open!
Q: For 2018 Toto Wolff said that he expects a three-horse race with Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – and maybe McLaren making it four. If your chassis remains as strong, will that make you the number-one Renault-powered team?
MH: So far Renault was always fair with us. And we have learned our lesson from this year: we will not show up at the Barcelona tests with a non-competitive chassis! We have changed our schedule and how we approach the winter preparations. F1 is a competition – and if they are better then we have to work harder.
We have learned our lesson from this year: we will not show up at the Barcelona tests with a non-competitive chassis!
Q: You finished 2017 in P3, but would that position be good enough for another year?
MH: It should be better if we have a reliable power unit, and if we have more horsepower then we should come nearer to Mercedes, so it really could be the scenario that Wolff saw in his crystal ball. It will be an exciting season, that is for sure.
Q: In the paddock you and Niki (Lauda) are sometimes referred to as Statler and Waldorf – the two grumpy and cynical senior citizens from The Muppet Show. What has Statler to say about the development path Formula 1 is taking?
HM: It is going in the right direction. Maybe ‘Niki Waldorf’ is of a different opinion, but that you have to ask him. Clearly it could not go on like it was. The rules are too complicated. The fan should be king. He should easily understand what is going on – and that is not possible with the current engine rules. Of course I also see Toto’s (Wolff) viewpoint: if he loses his engine he loses most of his advantage – so he is fighting against it. How will it end? I think we will get technically simpler engines, less expensive but more noisy. We are moving there.