SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 06: Laurent Mekies, Team Principal of Visa Cash App RB looks on from the pitwall during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on April 06, 2024 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Mekies: VCARB are sixth in brutal F1 midfield battle

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 06: Laurent Mekies, Team Principal of Visa Cash App RB looks on from the pitwall during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on April 06, 2024 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

After four races as Visa Cash App RB (VCARB) Team Principal Laurent Mekies can boast that he has scored seven points in charge of the Red Bull Formula 1 junior team, at the same time last year they only had two on the board.

It’s a big deal for a ‘smaller’ F1 team to score points, let alone twice in a row as VCARB did in Australia and Japan when the top five F1 teams – Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren and Aston Martin – tend to hog the top ten points scoring spots.

Thus a point as Yuki Tsunoda scored in feisty fashion on home soil this past weekend, and before Suzuka, he finished P7 in Melbourne as the 23-year-old shoulders all the hard graft, while teammate Daniel Ricciardo (11 years his senior and eight-time Grand Prix winner struggles to find the form that once made him the darling of F1.

No longer wearing the familiar Red of Ferrari, a multi-coloured Mekies – now wearing VCARB team kit – met with select media during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, pretty much his team’s home race by virtue of Tsunoda and the Red Bull-Honda connection that powers their cars.

And 46-year-old Mekies is under no illusion about the F1 pecking order: “Whoever is ahead in midfield is P6, and at right now that’s us. We still have a long season ahead of us and we know that the order will shift again, depending on how improvements are made to the car, how well the race track and conditions suit one or the other racing car or how well the work is done on a particular GP weekend.”

Mekies: This battle in the F1 midfield will be brutal

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 07: Yuki Tsunoda of Japan driving the (22) Visa Cash App RB VCARB 01 on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on April 07, 2024 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

The Frenchman continued: “If you want to prevail, you have to develop efficiently and implement your race weekend as perfectly as possible. All of this is wonderful for the fans and a great challenge for us as competitors. In Japan, we did almost everything right and as a reward, we got P7 with Yuki.”

“But we keep our feet firmly on the carpet. Only if we work harder will we be able to hold our own, because this battle in the midfield will be brutal,” predicted the team boss

“In Australia, we were happy about sixth place in the pecking order,” reckoned Mekies, adding: “But that is no guarantee that things will continue like this. If you leave two-tenths behind for whatever reason, then you won’t end up in eleventh place, but only in 18th place.

After the Japanese Grand Prix, Mekies said: “Great result for the team today. Yuki drove a fantastic, well-controlled race in front of his home crowd, managing his tyres and pushing hard when it mattered. Some great overtaking too, and not a foot wrong all weekend. He deserves the superb result.

“The team performed very well at extracting everything we could from our package this weekend, including a decisive high-pressure pit stop in the race, and many difficult calls. It’s only one point for the championship but it is a very important one.

“Especially on a day where the top five teams had both their cars finishing the race. A big well done to everyone in Faenza, in Bicester, and to our partner Honda. We know we need to keep pushing very hard in all areas to be able to keep topping the midfield,” added Mekies.

The Ricciardo conundrum for VCARB and Red Bull

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 22: Laurent Mekies of Visa Cash App RB talks to Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Visa Cash App RB during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Albert Park Circuit on March 22, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

In stark contrast to his younger teammate, Ricciardo remains a puzzling cause as the 4-0 drubbing he is getting from Tsunoda in Qualifying, so far this year testifies. But like McLaren, Red Bull are trying to revive Ricciardo’s flagging career in the top flight.

After being bounced out in Q1 on Saturday at Suzuka, Mekies told reporters that the team would do everything to provide Daniel with a car that suits his style. Even willing to change his chassis for good measure.

VCARB racing director Alan Permane revealed: “We have a new chassis coming through, it makes sense at all levels to give that to Daniel, not least that Yuki is super happy and super comfortable where he is. We don’t have a preference on drivers.

“With Daniel maybe it’s good for him to just put that completely to bed, that there any there any issues with the car,” added Permane before Riciardo suffered a race-ending collision with the Williams of Alex Albon less than kilometre from the startline.

After Round 4 of the 2024 F1 World Championship, in Japan, Mekies commented on the incident: “Daniel’s incident in the first lap was unfortunate. We were quite exposed against our competitors behind us who were mainly on soft tyres, and these things can happen.

“What is important is that both our drivers had great pace here, as demonstrated in qualifying,” insisted Mekies, who has made a solid start along with Peter Bayer at the helm of VCARB, in the wake of the long leadership of the team by the man they replaced – Franz Tost. (Interview conducted by Agnes Carlier at Suzuka)