Q: Helmut, on the subject of Red Bull’s Renault power unit, where do you stand right now?
Helmut Marko: We are significantly behind Mercedes. They clearly dominate. The complexity of the units: IC engine, hybrid, MGU-K, MGU-H, and bringing all these systems together, and then adding driveability to it - that makes the best product and that is clearly the case with Mercedes. But because the rules are not open it means that you are only allowed to make changes on a very limited scale which makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to catch up.
Q: Is that something that goes only for 2015 or until the rules are changed again?
HM: This situation will last until the rules are changed again. And then when you have such a disastrous weekend as Melbourne things are said fast - and the Malaysian weekend didn’t ease the situation much. We have implemented now a system where it is clearly defined who has what responsibilities, as there have been mistakes in the past from Renault’s side as well as from our side as both companies stand for different corporate cultures. Here you have basically a state-run organisation and we in the UK have highly motivated people that react immediately to any necessity. Add to that the problems with the test facility, and there you have a situation that we have seen at the last two races. How and when we find improvement - whether this season or in 2016 - is still unclear.
Q: How real do you think the pull-out threats of Renault are?
HM: Renault are spending a lot of money on this power unit - not as much as Mercedes but a significant amount - and are confronted with the same issues that we have: their F1 involvement has to pay off! Add to that that Renault feels under-represented on the marketing side so there are considerations to either buy Toro Rosso or more likely give them a yellow livery to have a better marketing platform. But of course the figures have to correspond.
Q: What would it mean for Red Bull Racing if Toro Rosso goes yellow?
HM: Such a scenario would only take off if the close relationship between Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso stays intact within the rules. Red Bull Racing’s headcount is much higher, the equipment of the team is more sophisticated - so without the know-how of Red Bull Racing, Toro Rosso would be hurt in its competitiveness. So as I just said, a close interaction of both teams is paramount to such a scenario.
Q: Rumours have it that Audi has a power unit ready for action and is only waiting for the rear of the Red Bull car to become available. Is that so?
HM: I answer with the words of Dietrich Mateschitz: there haven’t been talks nor are we commencing a winter sale - referring to the three hundred million that is hanging in the air as a sale price.
Q: But haven’t you a wandering eye when it comes to a possible change of the power unit?
HM: We have a contract with Renault until the end of 2016. A new engine manufacturer surely will wait to see what is possible within the rules in 2017. This decision of what is possible in 2017 has to be made soon as every new manufacturer needs lead-time for development. I would imagine at least two years.
Q: But you could imagine having another product in the rear of your car?
HM: We are not interested in developing our own power unit. We are a chassis developer and a race team, and our priority is making our partnership with Renault a success again. Should that not happen it would be normal to look for alternatives.
Q: Red Bull had five extremely successful years with Renault, culminating in the winning of eight titles in four years. Can one bad year destroy such a happy marriage?
HM: Yes, we had very successful years with Renault so it was extremely unexpected that we had such a difficult 2014 season - that the Renault power unit could not match Mercedes. We did improve over the season and were the only other team to win races aside from Mercedes. So the disappointment that the start of 2015 was again a catastrophe was extremely big. Now we are in the second year of glitches - and right now in P6 in the constructors’ championship, behind our junior team! Of course that is a wake-up call for the people in Viry and they have promised a significant performance raise in the course of the season that will enable us to close in again.
Q: That is what you expect?
HM: That is what we expect and what Renault has informed us with facts and figures. But this happens half a year too late.
Q: After auditing 2015 at the end of the season, what are the minimum requirements?
HM: Toro Rosso should be P5 and Red Bull Racing P3. With the handicap that we have this year with the power unit we could say: ‘that’s okay for this season’ - but not for medium term.