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Helmut Marko Q&A: Austria will be spectacular (just not for Red Bull)

12 Jun 2015

In a candid and exclusive interview, Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko talks power units and penalties, 2015 strategies, and the trio of former world champions set to help make next weekend's race in Austria as thrilling as last year's celebrated event. Plus he gives his own personal blueprint for Formula One racing's future, including abolishing the strategy group, loosening the regulations and handing controls back to the FIA and FOM...

Q: Helmut, Monaco saw a clear upward trend at Red Bull Racing - only for it to reverse just two weeks later in Montreal. Can you tell us what the real picture is?

Helmut Marko: We knew that the Monaco result did not reflect our real situation because in Monaco power is not that important. You saw it last weekend in Montreal: as soon as there is a long straight we lose out. We know that we have a handicap on the engine side, horsepower-wise. We are trying to adapt with really low downforce, low wing settings, but there is a limit to what you can achieve with that. 

Q: But Monaco nevertheless must have been a great feeling - finally, a strong result and points haul...

HM: Of course it was fantastic for the morale of the team. And it showed that the chassis is as we want it to be. But the next circuits that are similar to Monaco are Budapest and then Singapore. If you only have three venues where you are relatively competitive, that spells the end to any dreams of glory! That is annoying.

Q: What is the situation with the power unit? Ferrari were obviously able to take a step forward: how is it at Renault?

HM: Ferrari shows that it is possible to catch up in an ongoing season and Renault recognise now what they have to do - but unfortunately one whole year was lost. On top of that came the issues with reliability. Yes, there are some steps coming, but the results have to be seen - if it works, then at best [it will arrive] at the last three races.   

Q: How many engine development tokens do Renault have left? It is understood that Ferrari and Mercedes have both used three, and have four left.

HM: I cannot tell you the exact number for Renault - but that is not the issue. The problem was reliability, and on top of it the development was obviously not going in the right direction. We have to be patient. In three weeks from now we should know if the new project, which is on the dyno now, is working or not.

Q: When will you need to use a fifth engine for all four drivers - both Red Bulls and Toro Rossos?

HM: Only Max [Verstappen] is running the fifth engine. But within the next two to three races we will be forced to run the fifth engine on both Red Bulls. [Carlos] Sainz is lucky: he is only on the third engine, so he might make it to Monza.  

Q: Why isn't it possible to come to an agreement with the other teams for at least a fifth engine? Or is that irrelevant for Red Bull, as you might need seven or eight?

HM: Because a fifth engine will not do for us. Mercedes has argued against it because of cost reasons, which I think is far from the reality. They have an advantage and want to keep it. My guess is that a sixth engine is inevitable. We will try to change to new engines at circuits where it doesn't hurt us too much. We don't want to change an engine in Hungary, where we have good chances to be competitive - that goes for Singapore too. Monza, where our chances are slim anyway, would be an engine change track. 

Q: Some say Formula One racing is being controlled by the engineers - and that teams spend all they have on technical margins and very little on the show...

HM: That problem could be solved easily: the engineers can spend only the money the teams raise from sponsors. They would immediately adapt to a different approach to money spending. The show and the fans are not in the centre of their thinking - they are living their own technical vision. But in the end F1 is also a show and we have to comply with what the fans want to see. My impression is that fans want to see something wild, something spectacular - and not an extension of all the restrictions that exist in normal road traffic. The restrictions are necessary, yes, but fans want to see a spectacular show when they come to a race track.  

Q: At the beginning, Red Bull had a very good balance between technical improvement and entertainment. Why did that concept change slightly? Have you been forced to give that up because other teams put every penny they have into their engineering departments?

HM: Yes, the development goes in that direction. This is perfectly embodied by all the technical meetings. On a race weekend one technical meeting follows the other, sometimes up until midnight. And the technical regulations push in that direction. So how can you have a party going on? And of course our main goal is to be successful on the track, so we have to go with the flow. I think we still do have a good balance.

Q: Is Formula One racing overregulated by the FIA? Is ‘pure racing' no longer possible because a penalty looms around every corner?

HM: For sure it is overregulated - too many committees and too many people have a say. Let them race! And get rid of the strategy group, because the teams will never agree on anything. Give the authority back to FOM and the FIA.

Q: Red Bull are part of the strategy group. Can you say that anything positive ever came out of that group?

HM: Unfortunately nothing that would be required to make the show more exciting is achieved at the moment. But that is logical if you have four, five or six teams - everyone is looking for their own advantage and nobody is able to look beyond their own noses. So give it back to the people who know their business.

Q: According to many fans, last year's Grand Prix in Austria was the most popular on the calendar. F1 racing returns next weekend. Can we expect the same great spectacle as last year?

HM: Yes, it was a fantastic race and we received tonnes of positive feedback. We have put together great entertainment with shows in the evening and will have multiple former champions - Alain Prost, Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet, just to drop a few names - who will have a run in their original turbo cars - proper noisy, aggressive race cars! 

Q: And what about your own drivers' prospects?

HM: Unfortunately the Red Bull Ring is a real power track so we won't be with the frontrunners. But even if our drivers will hardly see the podium this year, the fans will get entertainment at its best - I promise.