SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 21: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates with Helmut Marko in parc ferme after the F1 Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 21, 2024 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Marko: Hard to imagine but Verstappen gets better and better

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 21: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates with Helmut Marko in parc ferme after the F1 Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 21, 2024 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

In his exclusive column on SpeedWeek, Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko had his say on the 2024 Chinese Grand Prix, inevitably gushing with admiration for his driver and Shanghai winner Max Verstappen who he says, incredibly, just gets better and better.

Four out of five wins means that one of the other 19 has to win at least four races to win as quickly as possible and hope Verstappen breaks down. It’s silly to even contemplate the Dutch ace bagging his fourth consecutive F1 title long before this season ends. We declared him Champ after Japan…

Victory in China means Verstappen has 58 Grand Prix wins on his CV. Only Lewis Hamilton (103) and Michael Schumacher (91) have scored more in F1 history. And he is only 26 years old!

Furthermore, Red Bull unleashed a good update to the mighty Adrian Newey & Co. penned RB20. Which Verstappen maximised in Qualy and the race. while Perez was able to lock out the front row with his performance on Saturday in Shanghai. The car is fast!

No surprise Marko was bullish: “Five GP weekends, five different race tracks, five pole positions for Max Verstappen, four victories. At this point, we can reasonably say that we have a car that is fast on any type of track.

“We have to point out that the tyre wear in Melbourne was unusually high for Red Bull conditions. When it comes to Sergio Pérez, we don’t know exactly whether the damage to his car contributed to his result. But the findings from the long runs also indicate that there is too much wear.”

Marko: Max had a critical moment shortly before the checkered flag

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 21: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing and Third placed Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrate with their team after the F1 Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 21, 2024 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) marko

Marko also revealed that it was not quite the Shanghai cruise it seemed from the outside for Verstappen: “Max had a critical moment shortly before the checkered flag when it drove over debris at 300 km/h.

“Carbon splinters, in the worst-case scenario, will immediately slash a tyre. We didn’t realize the extent of the debris and how Max was affected because he was the first to get there. That’s always a worry.”

But concerns were unfounded as Verstappen took another step to F1 title number four. Marko continued: “Max is on the right course towards successfully defending his title. Even if it’s hard to imagine after last season, he’s getting better and better. This is also evident when setting up his car.

“Even on a weekend in a sprint format like in Shanghai, we are making progress step by step, in free training and then straight into sprint qualifying. There is harmony between Max and his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase.

“Max is no longer impatient, but instead pursues two goals calmly and with concentration: put the car on pole if possible, but the main focus is on the race. This combination, this overview, coupled with excellent tyre management, all make him unbeatable at the moment,” reckons Marko, echoing what legendary race drivers are saying about Verstappen.

Despite the huge advantage to their rivals, Marko is nevertheless wary of what lies ahead: “Race tracks where the opponents could get a little closer to us are Miami or Monaco. The competition has gotten closer, especially in qualifying trim. I can imagine that it won’t be easy to get pole position there.”

Marko: Checo is showing stronger performances

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 21: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing and Third placed Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrate in parc ferme after the F1 Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 21, 2024 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Marko has also warmed to Perez and the progress the veteran Mexican has made this season: “What I’m also happy about is that Checo is showing stronger performances in this first part of the season than he did a year ago.

“Pérez no longer goes into the race with the claim that he absolutely wants to beat Max. By this, I also mean that in 2023 he almost desperately went his own way in terms of setup to try and find pace. He gave that up and is now taking roughly the same route as Verstappen when it comes to setup. As a result, he loses less time and is significantly better, especially in qualifying, than in 2023.

“There is also little to complain about in the races: without the unfortunate timing of the safety car phases, Checo would probably have finished second in China. But when he’s stuck in traffic, he’s less able to exploit his tire-whispering qualities. Instead, he had to work his way forward, and that usually always comes down to the tyres.”

Marko also revealed that he is conflicted about the Sprint Race weekend format, the first one run in China this past weekend: “We now had the first sprint weekend of the year, the second will follow soon, in Miami. I have two opinions about the sprint format.

“Red Bull organizes the Austrian Grand Prix. It is simply a bonus for the spectators and therefore for the organizer that the fans are offered a qualifying on Friday and a race on Saturday. These two days are therefore easier to market than the classic weekend format. That’s the commercial side.

“On the sporting side, I’m more of a fan of the traditional process because a sprint takes something away from the main event. In addition, because the competitors only have one free practice session, the coordination can be wrong, as happened to us two years ago in Brazil.

The Doctor very impressed by Norris but happy to see Red Bull rivals struggle

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 21: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB20 leads the field into turn one at the start during the F1 Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 21, 2024 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images )

“With the regulations at the time, under which hardly any changes to the car were allowed, a race was as good as lost. Conclusion on the sprint: as an organizer yes, as a racing fan no,” declared Marko.

Beyond his own Red Bull garage, the Austrian motorsport veteran was encouraged by the disarray in rival camps: “Behind Red Bull Racing we experience ups and downs between the pursuers. That pleases me. Because that means that our lead increases if someone else constantly finishes behind us.

“In China, we were amazed that this time Lando Norris was the second force with McLaren. We expected Ferrari to be stronger. But neither in the long runs nor in qualifying nor in the races were they able to get close to the top three.

“If we ignore the Red Bull drivers for a moment: “Norris makes a great impression of the other drivers, who has a clearer grip on Oscar Piastri at McLaren than last year.

“Then comes Carlos Sainz, who was always ahead of Charles Leclerc at Ferrari except for China. Also in qualifying. That surprised me. Even in qualifying, Sainz drives very aggressively and won impressively in Australia.”

Star of the show, for some even Driver of the Day, Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso also caught the eye of Marko: “And then of course Fernando Alonso, who did incredible things in the final training sessions and demonstrated his enormous duel strength in the races, as was shown once again in the duel with Pérez in Shanghai – he doesn’t give up an inch.”

After Round 5 of the 2024 F1 World Championship in China, Verstappen and Red Bull are marching to this year’s title almost unchallenged as the points table below testifies:

2024 f1 standings after Round 5 chinese gp