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Nothing is fixed at the moment - Q&A with Red Bull’s Helmut Marko

28 Nov 2015

The Yas Marina paddock is rife with speculation about when Red Bull will finally confirm their power unit arrangements for 2016 and beyond. One man who should have the answers is the company’s straight-talking motorsport consultant Helmut Marko. We sat down for an exclusive chat with the Austrian, to talk about Renault, Honda, independent engines, Ron Dennis and more…

Q: Helmut, so far all the deadlines set by Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz regarding the team’s future have passed with no apparent resolution. What is the real state of affairs? Will it be Renault engines again next year?

Helmut Marko: Would I lie to you? I tell you: nothing is fixed at this very moment.

Q: ‘Nothing is fixed’… some say this phrase has become your middle name. Is there really no light at the end of the tunnel? You need to have a car ready for 2016…

HM: Really? Well, it’s true. And a car is nothing without an engine - that is the sad truth, otherwise we would be on the sunny side already! But a decision should be made this weekend - either Saturday night or Sunday… That makes still one more day to bargain!

Q: Is it a case of Renault or nothing? Or are other players again under consideration?

HM: In this ‘game’, as you call it, we are passengers. We can’t influence what is going on at the moment. With our financial involvement in the sport that is a very dissatisfying situation.

Q: Then why is Mr Mateschitz so patient?

HM: He is so patient because we have been fooled around. We had deals and promises for engines which in the end didn’t come true.

Q. There are rumours that it could be a Renault engine under a different name - like many years ago when Flavio Briatore leased Supertec-badges Renault engines to teams. And that Mario Illien would probably be involved…

HM: Take my middle name! (laughs)

Q: It is no secret that you also approached Honda - but it was said that Ron Dennis vetoed the idea. Now Dennis has said it had nothing to do with his veto, but that McLaren and Honda sat down and - together - came to the conclusion that it would be too early for Honda to supply another team, for capacity and logistical reasons. How do you see things?

HM: We had discussions with people from Honda. They were willing to supply us with engines, but said that Ron Dennis could veto this - and he used his veto.

Q: Wouldn’t going with Honda mean replacing one problem with another? Honda is unfamiliar, whereas with Renault you know the ins and outs…

HM: Honda has made a big commitment financially and building wise. And from what I see they are learning from their mistakes, so I can imagine that we will see a completely different picture of Honda next year.

Q: So we will see at least three competitive engines next year?

HM: Mercedes’ position will be as dominant as it has been in the last two years, and that is why everybody is talking about a new concept - because the existing Mercedes engine is a masterpiece of technical engineering. But I don’t know if it [the current concept] is the right thing for Formula One: it is too complicated, too expensive and not noisy enough. We are talking about $30 million on average for such an engine. And if they open up the development and the others could catch up - that would increase the costs even further.

Q: What do you estimate that increase to be?

HM: Difficult to say. But my guess is that the development budgets would be three times higher than they are at the moment. That is always the case if you don’t have any restrictions: costs soar! In any case, it is not easy for Honda or Renault to catch up. Ferrari was catching up, but they are still not anywhere near Mercedes.

Q: Can you understand Mercedes’ viewpoint? They have worked so hard on that engine - why should they let it go just because others didn’t get it right?

HM: Yes, I can understand that. But when it goes to the substance of the whole sport, then you have to start thinking in a different way. There simply must be engines available for everybody. And that is not the case. That is why this independent engine is so important.

Q: Wasn’t that concept just scrapped?

HM: No, it isn’t off the table. The recommendation is that on January 15th the manufacturers come with a proposal of how the engine should be in the future. We had a meeting Saturday morning and it looks like that there will be a new type of engine in 2018, which first of all has to be available for anybody who wants it, has 1000 horsepower or more, is much cheaper, and comes with much less electronics so that the driver again is a force that matters - and not the engineers at the pit wall.

Q: But that still leaves you for two years without an engine - as of this very moment…

HM: Not two years. If this new engines comes in 2018 and the independent engine in 2017 that makes only 2016 - if it comes true what [FIA President] Jean Todt promised, that if there is no supply from the big teams he will go for the independent engine.

Q: Have you been surprised that none of the other engine manufacturers wanted to supply you? What do you believe are the reasons behind these refusals? Fear of the enemy?

HM: I think it would still be very hard to swallow for them to get beaten by Red Bull - who are still not considered a ‘classic’ race team. In their view we are selling energy drinks and it would be the ultimate punishment to be beaten by somebody like us.

Q: Do you really think that this is still an argument? Red Bull has won eight championships…

HM: Yes, it is still in their head. And, of course, they can see in their overlays that even if we have seventy or more horsepower less, that in the corners we are right there! But we have an FIA that rules the sport and if it comes to a situation like that fortunately Jean Todt reacted.

Q: Was that reaction a bit late?

HM: Let’s be happy that they have reacted.

Q: What will it take to mend your relationship with Renault, after so many ‘unhappy’ words have been spoken on both sides? Can the only magic word be ‘success’?

HM: Nothing is fixed yet. Let’s talk about that when things are clarified. Probably tomorrow we’ll know all answers.