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Exclusive Helmut Marko Q&A: Ricciardo ready to lead Red Bull

14 Oct 2014

When Red Bull and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel part ways at the end of the season, the team’s motorsport consultant Helmut Marko is convinced they already have the perfect candidate to fill the void - Daniel Ricciardo.

In a candid and frank interview, Marko discusses the manner of Vettel’s departure (and why it wasn’t altogether surprising), outlines why there are no bad feelings on either side, and explains why the form of Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat, who will be promoted to the team in 2015, gives him confidence Red Bull will still be serious contenders next year…

Q: Helmut, when were the first indications for you that Sebastian might be looking for a new home?

Helmut Marko: I think the first suspicion that there was something brewing was after the summer break. I cannot nail it down to an occurrence, but it was a strong gut feeling. Remember this: at least two things had to come together. It was not only a case of Sebastian wanting to leave, but also of Fernando Alonso clearing the way. The more Alonso distanced himself from Ferrari the more likely it became that Seb would move.

Q: But it is hard to imagine that Alonso would have envisioned the consequences…

HM: …I have no idea what Alonso thought.

Q: Your breaking the news of Sebastian leaving Red Bull ruined any media strategy for the team he will be joining…

HM: …that was not our intention. We just communicated what is fact and what we plan for the future. It was our fast reaction rate - and that shows how much we are committed.

Q: But it was likely far from ideal for his new team that there was not a joint announcement…

HM: …I have to look at what is best for Red Bull and cannot have an eye on another team’s mental state.

Q: What is Sebastian expecting from his move? It is very plausible that his best chance to return to winning ways would have been with Red Bull…

HM: Ferrari is still the name in F1. It’s a myth, so every driver yearns to go there in their racing career. Sure, much of it is about illusions.

Q: But isn’t it always the paramount thing for a driver to win - not to be part of a myth?

HM: Sebastian has already won [the title] four times. Now it’s time for the myth. I also believe that the moment to move was ideal: Ferrari is down, and in such a situation you can dictate your conditions.

Q: Conditions that Red Bull probably would not have accepted?

HM: For instance.

Q: So it all came out at a dinner in Japan - both of you sitting on cushions on the floor in a restaurant and suddenly one tells the truth and the other’s jaw drops?

HM: No jaw dropping on my side! (laughs) I said to him, ‘Tell me.’ And he did. It was a fact that was noted. There are no bad vibes, but we will do anything next season to beat him!

Q: How did [Red Bull owner] Dietrich Mateschitz cope with the situation? Nobody normally leaves Red Bull unless Red Bull wants them to go - but here Red Bull’s top employee has jumped ship…

HM: I warned Dietrich that there was something coming. And this is not a love affair - this is, as you rightfully said, a working relationship, and if you believe that the grass might be greener somewhere else, then you make such a decision. And again, I think that it was an ideal moment for Sebastian with the situation Ferrari is in.

Q: That makes Daniel your top driver for 2015. He has had a fantastic season so far with three wins and he still has a shot at the drivers’ title. Would things look slightly different had Daniel not proven to be a worthy team leader?

HM: Yes, if we did not have a ‘team leader’ then the situation would look slightly different - but we knew that Daniel would fill these shoes, so things were much easier.

Q: Will you now work more intensely with Daniel to prepare him for his 2015 position?

HM: We always knew that he can fill anybody’s shoes - and that all our drivers are always treated equally. The only difference will be that between him and Daniil (Kvyat) next year, he has more experience.

Q: Daniel still has a mathematical chance of the drivers’ title. Will that change anything in the pecking order for the remaining races?

HM: If it is decisive for the title win I am sure Sebastian has the right understanding of what to do.

Q: Daniil Kvyat was probably surprised to move to a top team after only one year in F1 racing…

HM: We do have the cosy situation of having a pool of great talents we can choose from as we want. And believe me, we wouldn’t have promoted him if we didn’t believe that he can deliver!

Q: Does that mean that if you had not had confidence Daniil could do the job you would have looked to hire an outside hand?

HM: Yes, we would have considered that.

Q: In 2015 you will have the youngest driver pairing of the top teams…

HM: We don’t want to have the youngest but the most successful. Age is no longer a benefit.

Q: Would your decision to part with Jean-Eric Vergne have been different had you know about Sebastian’s plans?

HM: 'Ifs' and 'buts'... now it is fact.