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Exclusive - Red Bull's Marko on Max, moves, and Monaco

27 May 2016

Many questioned his recent decision to swap Max Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat between teams, but those who doubted the wisdom of Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko were soon silenced when Verstappen won first time out in Spain. We caught up with Marko to reflect - and to consider Red Bull Racing’s Monaco prospects…

Q: Helmut, you hadn’t chosen to go up on the podium since Abu Dhabi 2010 - Sebastian Vettel’s first championship win. But you were back two weeks ago in Barcelona at Max Verstappen’s first race win - why?

Helmut Marko: You have to set priorities. The usual procedure at a Red Bull race win is that one of the engineers - the technical experts - joins the winning driver on the podium. But that Barcelona win was so emotional that I could not hold back. First to bring Max in and then to see him win his first ever race in a Red Bull Racing car… that was just unbelievable.

Q: So even someone as down-to-earth as you gets carried away sometimes…

HM: …absolutely! (laughs)

Q: When you arrived in the Barcelona paddock you were portrayed as the hardnosed man deciding young drivers’ futures. When you left you were the prophet who’d known it all along…

HM: …I was the hero. You see how fast it can go: from zero to hero in only a race distance. But to be honest, that doesn’t really affect me.

Q: But if you are honest, did you ever imagine in your wildest dreams that Max could win in his first race for Red Bull Racing - in a car he hardly knew?

HM: No. Clearly no.

Q: Than what were your expectations?

HM: I would have expected a podium from him this season - and depending on the engine performance, possibly a win. But not in his first race, not like he did.

Q: Gerhard Berger once said about a 19-year-old Sebastian Vettel that he looked 16 but thought like a 30-year old. Is it similar with Max?

HM: He looks 18, but at my first meeting with him, the most important one when he was 16 years old, he articulated himself about his future like a 24-year old. The vision he’d got about where he wanted to be was unbelievable for somebody so young.

Q: Max was earmarked as one of the future world champions. He has ticked the box for the first race win - when will he tick the box for the first title? What’s your guess?

HM: We just have to provide him with winning material - and there you go. But the same goes for Daniel Ricciardo. Both are capable of winning titles in the next two years.

Q: Max joining Red Bull Racing also gives Daniel a run for his money - he will probably have to up his game again. Was that also part of the intention when swapping cockpits?

HM: The swapping was to get the maximum out for the team. We want to end the season in P2 in the constructors’ standing - right now we are third - and for that both our drivers have to deliver.

Q: Can we go back to when the decision to swap first materialized. When did it happen? Did you confer with Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz?

HM: Well, the two crashes in Russia were just a little bit too much, so I talked it over with Mr Mateschitz and he gave the green light to go ahead.

Q: Was Mr Mateschitz also aware that this decision could backfire?

HM: No risk no fun - that’s Red Bull DNA! (laughs) Remember: only one and a half years ago we were called ‘criminals’ for putting a 17-year old youngster in a Formula One car - now we are heroes! We always knew he would do well - and that it was not too early for him. There was never the intention that he should win his first race - we wanted him to grow slowly into the team.

Q: If you look at Max it seems that he is motivating himself…

HM: He doesn’t need to motivate himself - he has a mental strength that comes from within him. He clearly knows what he wants to achieve in this sport.

Q: Jumping into Daniil’s (Kvyat) car and winning immediately: what does that mean for Daniil’s career?

HM: Well, there have been updates on the car. The fact is that Daniil is back at Toro Rosso - a very good midfield team. Daniil’s problem was never the speed, but the pressure he couldn’t handle. Now he can recover - and so far this weekend he has demonstrated how quick he is and what potential there still is within him. He just switched within the family.

Q: Renault have brought an engine update to Monaco - and we saw with Daniel’s Thursday time that it works. He was almost nine-tenths faster than Max, who still has the ‘old’ engine. Is that what the upgrade is worth - a nine-tenths’ gain?

HM: Well, the engine was only a small part of the time gap between the two. Max was on a different program and set-up. The real gap between the new engine update and the old engine we will see in qualifying.

Q: When will Max run the same upgrade?

HM: He will get that upgrade in Montreal. But it was always clear that when we get the engine upgrade from Renault it would be on Daniel’s car first.

Q: On Thursday Red Bull Racing looked like the second force on the grid - and you just said that you want to finish the constructors’ championship in P2. You are obviously taking big steps in the right direction, but were you surprised by Ferrari’s relative lack of pace?

HM: At the beginning of the winter tests I’d already realised what a fantastic chassis we have - and then the good work of Renault came on top of that. Reliability stopped being an issue and the upgrade in power is also there - there you have it! My guess is that Ferrari are quick but they are not so consistent - they seem to have reliability problems, and that is not the easiest thing to come to terms with.

Q: Monaco is one of those circuits where experience counts. Daniel has that, but what do you think Max can achieve here?

HM: Max proved how mentally strong he is in Barcelona, when keeping Kimi (Raikkonen) behind him. So I would say podiums are possible for both our guys.