Red Bull consultant Helmut Marko has revealed how an “intensive conversation” with Max Verstappen got their young superstar back in the zone, upon which he delivered a stellar second half of the season and now has the energy drinks outfit confident of a title tilt in 2019.
With Renault engines the energy drinks outfit was outgunned on the engine front by Mercedes and Ferrari, but their RB14 chassis was excellent – about 1.5 seconds faster than the similarly powered Renault RS18 – which allowed Verstappen and teammate Daniel Ricciardo to rack up four wins (nearly five if you count Brazil) in a season of ups and downs.
Speaking to Motorsport-Magazin, Marko reflected, “The second half of the season makes us extremely positive about how we developed our chassis, clearly, it’s the best. Reliability on the Red Bull side also improved, as it did even from Renault. But especially the way Max turned his season around from Paul Ricard.”
Prior to the French Grand Prix, Verstappen was going through a crisis in form which rendered him incident-prone. His needless shunt in Monaco robbed him of what might have been a win at the principality, instead, it went to teammate Ricciardo.
Asked how he dealt with Verstappen’s AWOL form, Marko replied, “We had an intensive conversation and found the problem was that he was putting too much pressure on himself.”
“He is still very ambitious but he realises that he does not have to be fastest in every session. He now sees the bigger picture and next year the championship will also be on his mind. To achieve that you do not always have to be at the front.”
Only Lewis Hamilton polarises F1 fans as does the young Dutchman, for many the 21-year-old is a superhero, while others accept his immense talent but question his temperament under pressure.
The infamous post-Brazilian Grand Prix shoving match between Force India’s Esteban Ocon and Verstappen, captured live on TV, again put his attitude and maturity, or lack thereof, in the spotlight.
But according to Marko, the Verstappen versus Ocon feud is not a new thing and actually has roots long before the pair became household names, “This Ocon story is quite special. The relationship, or non-relationship, has history that dates back to Formula 3. There have been collisions in the past.”
“But by and large, starting with setting up his race weekend, everything has improved and things are a lot calmer around Max.”
Despite the second half recovery, there is no question that Verstappen cost himself and his team valuable points with his early season shenanigans.
“We made our own internal “What-If?” calculation,” revealed Marko. “If neither Max nor the team had made mistakes- because we made some – he would have been second in the drivers’ championship and we would have been second in the constructors’ championship.”
Not long ago, Verstappen arrived in the team, four races into the 2016 season and immediately made an impact winning his first race for the Blues and since usurped Ricciardo as the team’s favourite son. Hence the latter departing to Renault.
In 2019, the script is reversed as Verstappen, the established driver in the team, welcomes fellow Toro Rosso graduate Pierre Gasly – a young and cocky Frenchman with ambitions – setting the stage for an intriguing sideshow. Beating one’s teammate will always be the first order of business for any race driver n a team.
But Marko is confident the mix can work, “Gasly comes as a youngster, so it’s very clear that he has to adhere to the rules of Red Bull Racing.”
“It’s easy: Max is established and has his routine with the team. Gasly is free, he just needs to show performance. They are equal,” insisted the Austrian.