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Exclusive Helmut Marko Q&A: Red Bull title still possible

05 Jul 2014

Reigning world champions Red Bull are having a tough season - just one victory, and a distant second place in the standings, with less than half the points of leaders Mercedes. The Renault power unit issues have been well publicised, but Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko believes that together they can work through them, and with double points on the table at the final round in Abu Dhabi, he insists a shot at the title is not yet out of the question…

Q: Helmut, we are halfway through the season and things are still not moving significantly in Red Bull’s direction. What kind of emotions does that produce?

Helmut Marko: We’ve put the shock of the winter tests behind us. We have learned to work hard, but are still puzzled at times by the kind of setbacks and their frequency.

Q: But for Red Bull and sister team Toro Rosso the situation seems to have smoothed a bit compared to the other two Renault-powered squads, Lotus and Caterham. What have you done that they haven’t?

HM: We have knowhow at Red Bull Racing that enables us to use and synergize the complicated systems better. And then don’t forget, in terms of chassis and drivers we are the best Renault team.

Q: What do you mean by using the systems better?

HM: We have interfered and have found a way that enables us to move forward together. We have optimized the engine by pushing it to the limits - to find out were that limit is - also in terms of fuel usage - and make the right steps for 2015 where a new homologation is possible - or a change of the existing homologation - and that should make us move forward significantly.

Q: What about the rumour that Red Bull could take over the F1 engine department at Renault?

HM: There is no truth at all in that rumour. We want to push the development forward together with Renault.

Q: So no going it alone, but you will work together with Renault, and all the teams that want a Renault engine will also be served?

HM: Yes, but with only one version. Not like this season where Lotus had a different version to us, which tied up too many resources at Renault and distracted from the development.

Q: Why did Renault do that? It must have been clear that such a path could lead to trouble…

HM: They have bowed to the teams’ wishes. And it didn’t take long to see that this was a huge mistake, as Mercedes and Ferrari distribute just one power train and that’s it.

Q: So with the constant glitches, have you already given up on the 2014 season?

HM: Not at all. First of all because next season there are not many changes coming on the chassis side and everything that we learn this year will have an impact next season. At Renault there is a new managing director with Cyril Abiteboul.

Q: With whom you’ve had long discussions lately…

HM: Yes, that’s true - and we hope that Cyril’s appointment will transform into a new way of doing things at Renault. Coming back to your question of abandoning the 2014 season, with the chance of double points in Abu Dhabi it is mathematically still on the table for us to win, so we will not give up.

Q: But how much resource is already focused on the 2015 car?

HM: In the usual timeframe. Designing and drawing is happening simultaneously to this year’s development - just like we handle it every year.

Q: In these times of ‘desperate need’, what impact will Adrian Newey stepping back from the day-to-day running of the team have?

HM: We have a very broad basis of talents - and Newey is still active full time in Milton Keynes. How the real assignments of responsibilities will be handled in the future is something that has not been defined yet. And for our new division called ‘Advanced Technologies’, the facilities have not been erected yet. It is still at the stage where ideas are being channelled. So all this has no relevancy for next year.

Q: Customer cars are again a topic of discussion in the paddock. What is your view?

HM: Customer cars would significantly reduce the costs for those teams, but it also would take away every identity. I would favour the situation where the big teams would run a third car that could run with different sponsor logos - in that way the field would move closer together and we would not see cars that have been lapped several times. And for the big teams it would not make so much difference to run two or then three cars. If two of the big teams would each run a third car it would cost less than the budget of a backmarker.

Q: Who would be your candidate for a third drive?

HM: We have the luxury being able to choose from a big pool of talents. I will drop the name once the situation has arrived.

Q: Formula One racing and the 2014 changes have come in for some criticism. Do you think things need changing?

HM: Formula One has to go back to its core - and that is pure racing. There are already moves to stop the overly strict driver penalty system and reduce it to the minimum. That’s one point. Then, of course, do something on the sound situation: if the support events are louder than the main act, that is a situation that cannot stay. Then we have to go back to the time when the fastest, coolest and most brutal car was a Formula One car - and only a few drivers were able to handle these kind of cars.

Q: Mid-season can also means mid-term-reports. What marks would you give Red Bull’s four drivers?

HM: We are happy with the performance of all our drivers. Clearly you have to see it a bit from two sides, as Sebastian (Vettel) has had a ton of technical problems and that distorts the picture. The same goes for Jean-Eric (Vergne). But nevertheless both the other youngsters, Daniil (Kvyat) and Daniel (Ricciardo) have done an amazing job and have outperformed our expectations.

Q: So Daniel and Daniil get an A and the two others a B+…

HM: No, absolutely not. The others have also delivered, but have been hampered by multiple defects. All four get an A!

Q: What about this weekend? What grade will Red Bull go home with on Sunday?

HM: Probably with a B - after Mercedes with an A. It definitely looks much better than it did in Austria.

Q: So it sounds like after Sunday’s race - with the double points available in Abu Dhabi - you still believe the chance of the title is there?

HM: Yes, that is what I believe.