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Exclusive Helmut Marko Q&A: Red Bull has best car on the grid

29 Mar 2014

Winter testing may have been somewhat of a disaster for Red Bull, but the Renault-powered RB10 has shown plenty of promise in the early part of the season. But is it the best car on the grid? In this exclusive interview, Red Bull’s motorsport advisor Helmut Marko explains, amongst other things, why he thinks that it is…

Q: Helmut, there are so many rumours about the state of affairs at Red Bull. What is the situation - despite the fact that it was a pretty successful afternoon...

Helmut Marko: If you take only the chassis, we are absolutely at the top. The ‘sick’ part is still the engine, the powertrain. Take for example the situation in FP2 yesterday; we still ran the mapping from Melbourne because the next development step is not working in the way that using it would be an advantage.

Q: That translates into: ‘if the powertrain would deliver, then with the chassis Red Bull would be at the top again’…

HM: Yes, we would be at the top again. But right now with a deficit of around 80 horsepower that’s simply not possible. We have seen that from the speed trap. In parts where the car makes the difference - like in top speed corners or under conditions like we’ve seen this afternoon in qualifying where a driver can make a difference - we are where we want to be.

Q: Are you surprised that Renault - one of the manufacturers who pushed for the 2014 changes - is struggling so badly?

HM: We are surprised. There were indications of struggling in the winter, but we were always told that it would be sorted out in time. Then came the disastrous outing in Jerez. After that we intervened at Renault to the highest places and together with Toro Rosso and Renault started a collaboration to move forward. But this deficit is not so easy to overcome, as it is particularly the hybrid part that is letting us down.

Q: In hindsight, was it a mistake for Toro Rosso to switch to using Renault power; to have both teams at the mercy of a ‘difficult’ engine?

HM: No, because if I look at Sauber I don’t see that Toro Rosso would be better off with a Ferrari engine. And we have now a second power on our hands to do development work. And our work proves us right: look at where Lotus and Caterham are.

Q: The protest regarding Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification in Australia and the FIA fuel sensor matter - are you carrying on with it?

HM: Yes, because we are of the opinion that you cannot rely on a device that produced false information .

Q: So would you say that this sensor is not state-of-the-art?

HM: The fact is that this device not only produced fluctuating results in our case, but also for other teams - but Mercedes is stonewalling the matter. Generally speaking it is not an adequate tool to control what in itself is a questionable rule. You have 100 kilos of fuel to do your race - and we have proven that we didn’t exceed that in Melbourne - so every team should be free in how it uses those 100 kilos. What we have now is too complicated. No fan understands what this is all about.

Q: If your protest is successful would the ‘100 kilos and do with it what you want’ be the natural consequence?

HM: I think in this case one should not only focus on the teams - because of course everybody tries to secure his advantage - but also on the people following F1. As I said: it is too complicated - and fans might get fed up with it. So yes, doing with your fuel load what you want is one option - or make the results of that sensor bulletproof!

Q: It has been said that should Red Bull’s protest be successful that this could have far reaching consequences for the FIA. Is that so?

HM: They should correct what is in question, but this is not a matter of calling the whole FIA into question. That is definitely hyped by the media.

Q: When do you think that Red Bull will be back to its old self?

HM: That’s a matter for Renault. The benchmarks that were agreed upon have not been reached so far - but it has also been a quantum leap from Bahrain via Australia to now in Malaysia. The realist in me says that under normal race conditions we will be our old self in Europe.

Q: Could that mean that this season is a write-off?

HM: Of course not! This is the second race - and seventeen are still to come. And in case people didn’t get it: we are starting from the front row tomorrow!

Q: Daniel delivered a fantastic race in Melbourne - is that what Red Bull always saw in him: somebody who can deliver on a Red Bull level?

HM: He did a great job and proved our decision to take him was right. He delivered under very difficult circumstances in qualifying and withstood the pressure of the race. When you heard him on the team radio he was completely relaxed - business as usual - and not like it was his first race for Red Bull Racing. And with his jolly character we are all very, very happy.

Q: How do you keep Sebastian Vettel happy? How much tender loving care does your top driver need?

HM: Sebastian is blessed with four titles. Sure, it would be slightly different were this not 2014 but 2010. But he does not have anything to prove anymore - and he knows the ups and downs of racing. And before playing the mad man he is smart enough to be the team player. He sees the progress and the potential of the chassis and he hopes, along with us, that things will improve with Renault.

Q: The chassis: is it once again a typical slice of Adrian Newey magic?

HM: I would say so, yes. Unfortunately the potential of the car cannot be brought to full bloom because of the engine.

Q: How has Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz found the 2014 season so far? He was at the Jerez test witnessing that pitch-black situation?

HM: He is informed about everything and has supported all moves. But you are bound to what you have as there is no way of saying ‘hey, from tomorrow we will use a Mercedes engine’ - if they would give it to us - because this car is built around the Renault powertrain. So we’ll make the best out of our situation. Smart and cold-blooded!

Q: But the engine will remain a topic for Red Bull in the long run…

HM: …we are discussing that matter. But right now we will try to move rapidly forward with Renault - and this afternoon was a good step into the right direction. Let’s hope that Sunday is as promising as today was.