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Exclusive Helmut Marko Q&A - Anything is still possible!

24 Sep 2014

Reigning world champions Red Bull may have struggled to match the pace of Mercedes for much of the season, but with five races to go - including the double points finale in Abu Dhabi - Daniel Ricciardo is just 60 points off the championship lead. In a wide-ranging interview, Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko explains why the Milton Keynes-based squad haven’t given up on the title just yet, and why they should be much more competitive in 2015…

Q: Helmut, you had a long and intensive talk with Red Bull’s chief designer Rob Marshall in Singapore. Was the conversation about further 2014 improvements, or was it focused on 2015?

Helmut Marko: It was mainly about our development for 2015. The topic was the better integration of the power unit into the chassis and hence the need to get an even better cooperation with Renault for next season…

Q: …that brings us to meeting number two: between Renault and the Renault-powered teams (Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Lotus and Caterham). What was the topic there?

HM: How we can enhance the power unit in 2015. How to enhance the reliability and how to enhance the service and handling at the track.

Q: Very recently Lotus’s Gerard Lopez said that it was always a hidden fact that Red Bull was the number one team for Renault and that this season it has been very obvious…

HM: That was never the case. For many years we’ve been a customer team for them like all the others and it’s only our success that has made us move closer together - under such conditions Lotus was, for a long time, the secret darling of Renault. That has only changed very recently. What followed was the announcement that Red Bull is the official works team of Renault.

Q: So what you’re saying is that in the past both teams - Red Bull and Lotus - were treated equally but since this season the ‘sympathy’ has shifted towards Red Bull?

HM: That was also very visible in the results: last season Lotus with (Kimi) Raikkonen and (Romain) Grosjean were one of our fiercest competitors. This year the situation is very different if you look at where they are. In times where the power unit is key to success you have to focus on the most promising option. Remember: this season we had four different engine adaptions for the chassis. Next season there will only be one - the one that Red Bull Racing is creating with Renault - and the others have to take it one-to-one. That is the most efficient solution. Mercedes is proving that model very successfully - they only have one power unit version and the same goes for Ferrari.

Q: You just said that Red Bull now is the Renault works team. Is that a long-term commitment or something that is only valid for 2015?

HM: We are right now in the process of strengthening the technical cooperation to race at eye level with Mercedes in 2015. In the long term there are current discussions of how to cooperate on a broader level over a longer period.

Q: Singapore was a nice exception to the rule, but compared to the four previous years Sebastian Vettel's bad luck this season has been enormous. How are you going about solving that?

HM: We try to optimise all controls to eliminate these issues. But if you think of his engine failure on Friday in Singapore: something like this has not happened before - and it always happens to Seb! Lotus has problems - as do Caterham and Toro Rosso - but there it happens to both drivers. In our case it is always Seb!

Q: So what can you promise him for 2015?

HM: That we will have a better test season and that we will have more power. There was a technical meeting where technical upgrades to the power unit were discussed and should be completely implemented by July 2015. So by the start of the European rounds we should have a really competitive power unit.

Q: That sounds like the first four flyaway races of 2015 are already write-offs…

HM: We have proven this season that even with a striking power deficit we can compete successfully, and it shouldn’t be all that bad next year, also not at the first flyaway races.

Q: Sebastian’s name is frequently connected with a team change. He is laughing these rumours away, but what is the reality?

HM: Right now I am not sure to what team he is linked to - that varies from day to day. It’s really hard to keep up with all the rumours! (laughs)

Q: Let’s be honest, without Daniel Ricciardo's results the season would look rather dull for Red Bull…

HM: I would slightly disagree with that. Think of Canada: both had the chance to win. Budapest was in the same mould: the safety car played against Seb. (These were) both races where the two had the same speed, but due to matters outside of our control both races ended to Seb’s disadvantage.

Q: There were four years of Vettel-mania at Red Bull. How do you all cope with the situation now that the star is not sparkling quite as brightly at the moment?

HM: That is nothing that we make a big fuss about - it’s only the media. It was sometimes harrowing what rubbish was written. Of course Sebastian has had a bit of a hard time - especially as everything worked so much smoother on the other side of the garage.

Q: You’ve been the driving force behind Max Verstappen’s signing with Toro Rosso for next season. What do you expect from someone so young?

HM: He is an exceptional talent that comes along only once in decades…

Q: Can you compare him to anyone?

HM: Most likely Ayrton Senna. And in such a case you must not look at his age. He has been talking with people who are experts when it comes to the development of youngsters and they all say that (in terms of) his mind he is more like 22 than 16. And regarding his skills behind the steering wheel, he has been racing since he was four years old - professionally. So we expect him to be competitive from the first race. We are not playing the lottery - we know what we are doing. And success proves us right.

Q: How will you work with him? Might he need a lot more attention than somebody slightly older?

HM: As I said: mentally he is past 20 years old! And yes, we work with him intensively. He will do some Friday runs. Not long ago he did a 400 km test in Italy, he’s in the simulator whenever possible and he’s working on his physique and psychology with top experts. Yes, some things became visible that we will have to address for the 2015 season. Having said that, he is getting the perfect ‘schooling’ before he gets on the grid.

Q: Turning back to 2014, what’s still possible this season?

HM: We had a good race in Singapore. Of course, on tracks with lots of straights the Mercedes are still much faster, but when there are lots of corners - on tracks where the chassis matters more - we are again in the picture. We want to defend our P2 in the constructors’ championship and of course Williams and Ferrari are catching up. Williams are clearly the more dangerous. And believe it or not we haven’t given up on the drivers' championship yet. With the double points in Abu Dhabi anything is still possible!

Q: So now finally you have embraced the double-points finale?

HM: Yes, right now we do appreciate it very much! Though should we get ‘exiled’ from P2 in the constructors’ championship then we will curse it! (laughs)