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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 08: Oracle Red Bull Racing Team Consultant Dr Helmut Marko walks in the Paddock prior to final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 08, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Exclusive Marko: on Verstappen, Vettel, Lawson, Tsunoda, Perez, Hamilton and the Montoyas

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 08: Oracle Red Bull Racing Team Consultant Dr Helmut Marko walks in the Paddock prior to final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 08, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Doctor Helmut Marko knows racing drivers, the Austrian motorsport veteran has run the Red Bull driver programme since the team Dietrich Mateschitz built entered Formula 1 in 2005.

The 82-year-old Austrian’s life story would make for a great and long read. Even an enthralling Netflix piece, if they were savvy to realize that. It might be entitled: The Life of Marko!
Here’s a small slice of it directly from Graz.

Dr. Marko won the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours on two occasions. First in 1970 as a class winner before, in 1971, his Porsche 917KH crossed the line first for a historic overall victory with Dutch ace Gijs van Lennep.

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He might’ve gone on to greater things had fate not intervened. In 1972, two years after the death of his childhood friend Jochen Rindt at Monza, Marko’s promising driving was career also halted when, during the French Grand Prix at Charade, a flying stone, thrown up by another car, blinded him in the left eye.

Although forced to hang up his helmet, Marko never left racing. He went on to run his own teams as well as manage top Austrian driving talents such as Gerhard Berger and Karl Wendlinger. Along a remarkable journey, two decades ago he became director of Red Bull Motorsport where he remains as the driver boss for the organisation.

In that role, he is one of the most powerful decision-makers, and dream-makers in F1. First of the exceptional talents RBR unearthed was Sebastian Vettel the first ‘Red Bull student’ who went on to win four F1 World Championship Titles with Marko in his corner.

Now the Doctor remains in the Red Bull garage with Max Verstappen. A driver he rates as one of the best ever, if not the best of all time in the Dutch tri-champion. He is not alone.

But what of the others in the Red Bull fold past and present, and even before that? In an exclusive one-on-one with Dr Marko for GrandPrix247, we spent a considerable chunk of the 50 minutes on the subject of race drivers.

Marko: Vettel into the fine details, Verstappen more natural as a driver

Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen Marko: Vettel into the fine details, Verstappen more natural as a driver

Nasir Hameed: I saw a couple of helmets in the reception area of your hotel where I’m staying which is very nice. Several of them once belonged to Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen. How similar or different are they?

Dr Helmut Marko: “Each driver is different you know and we don’t really compare. But Seb is a driver who works into each detail and needs a lot of technical feedback before he goes fast. But once he has everything under control, yeah, he’s delivering.

“Max is a more natural driver. He just jumps in the car and is quick. Max is just about racing. You know, after a Grand Prix. He jumps on his sim racing seat, which is very difficult for me to understand but he likes it. He’s also very interested in sports. Max knows a lot about football, he’s completely focused on the sports world and the sports personalities.

“Both Seb and Max have their own opinion and are not shy to speak out. Seb like Max, just wants to have the best car and he lives his own life. But the commitment of Max is so unbelievable. The greatest advantage of Max is he doesn’t need any warm-up.”

NH: You have some very talented Junior drivers like Arvid Lindblad, who won both Formula 3 races at Silverstone. Isaac Hadjar who now leads the Formula 2 championship and Liam Lawson. How good are they? A new Max among them?

Marko: “First of all, I’m not looking for a new Max because Max is unique. And it will be difficult for anyone to be his teammate. We have a situation where our second driver unfortunately isn’t performing as he should. So we will have an evaluation in the summer break of what we are going to do.

“Lindblad is only 16 years old. So it’s difficult to say but you saw the race at Silverstone, the Feature Race where he had enormous pressure from Mini is his second year and two years older with far more experience. He held him off and in the end, Mini cooked his tyres trying to catch him.

“For his age, he’s very mature and a lot of confidence like Liam Lawson. It might be the best thing to give them first a year at VCARB and then move up to Red Bull Racing. But they have, of course, to get more ready and they can’t go straightaway and say we will beat Max. That was a mistake, for example, Pierre Gasty thought he was as good as Max.

“Maybe Lawson or Lindblad will be ready in two or three years for Red Bull Racing. Not sure if Max will be racing at the time. If Max feels he doesn’t enjoy F1 anymore, he doesn’t want it he will come to us and say thank you, that’s it.

“He will stay in racing. I guess one of his dreams is to go to Le Mans with Jos. That will be experience. I don’t want to be the team principal there because of those two strong characters. But it could be a fantastic experience.”

Marko on Perez: All Formula 1 contracts have exit clauses

Perez marko

NH: Now that you mentioned your second driver, there are reports of a clause in Sergio Perez’s contract that if he’s over 100 points behind Max halfway through the seat half-season, Red Bull can terminate the contract. Now you are a doctor of jurisprudence. Can we get your legal opinion on this place?

Marko: “All Formula 1 contracts have exit clauses, most of them related to performance or let’s say for the top drivers. As I mentioned before, we will have an evaluation during the summer break and then we will make a decision”

NH: If you let Checo go, is Liam Lawson, the next driver?

Marko: “First we have to see. Lawson is testing at Silverstone on Thursday. And yeah, so two more races and there will be more outings with Lawson. There’s also Yuki Tusnoda who is doing very well.

NH:  You mentioned Pierre Gasly. I remember reading a statement that was attributed to you saying that every time Pierre Gasly gets into the car, he wants to reinvent the vehicle did you say that? Or something close to it?

Marko: “Yes. When he was lapped in Budapest, he wanted a different suspension. (Laughing) He’s not an engineer. He was just running out of excuses and simply couldn’t accept that Max is just the faster guy.”

NH: Let’s talk about your drivers Yuki Tsunoda and Isak Hadjar. It’s a lot of fun to listen to them on their team radio-communication Do you ever tell them to calm down or to behave differently?

Marko: “Of course. We had a lot of arguments with Yuki, we also brought him together with a mental trainer because firstly, shouting was stupid and then he was getting slower. That’s what worried me most. We taught him: If you tell an engineer the car is shit… What should he do?

“You must give detailed technical information. You have to concentrate and find out exactly what the problems are. And now I think, but it’s basically if you talk to Yuki privately he’s not shouting, but he has an aggressive way of talking. And of course, over the radio. With Isak, with French emotion, it has the same effect. So we also put him together with mental trainers to stop that.”

Marko: Hamilton to Ferrari is very good for Formula 1

Blundell: Hamilton will bring calm and control to Ferrari

NH: Okay, now this is in from the beginning has been like a Falco song. Rock Me Amadeus. Were you surprised when Lewis announced he was leaving Mercedes to join Ferrari or did you have some secret info on it?

Marko: “There had been rumours but especially in the wintertime, a lot of rumours because no racing is going on. But when it was officially announced, I heard it one day before it was announced. I was really surprised. And on the other hand for Formula 1, it’s very good.

“This is the most successful driver we have in history, and together with Ferrari even the share price went up. So you see the effect on the marketing and the money side. What happened normally you start around July, August to talk about drivers for next year. And moving by Hamilton so early means everything was earlier. So most of the deals are already done. And yeah, we’ll see. It will be definitely interesting.”

NH: When you had your Formula 3000 team one of your drivers was Juan Pablo Montoya. Was he difficult to handle and manage and how good is his son Sebastian, who was also in your program?

Marko: “Juan Pablo he came here to Graz. The first thing he asked me was which of the four McDonald’s in Graz was the best. So his food was unhealthy, he was a lazy bastard. Yeah. But he was unbelievably fast. But he made so many stupid mistakes.

“We were leading the first race in England and he crashed. Similar to his son [Seb], but the son is crashing not in the front. He is crashing more in the top ten. So we had a hard time with Juan Pablo for quite a lot of times we didn’t even talk to each other.

“Now we are good friends. And yeah, he wasted his talent he could have been multiple F1 World Champion. His son Seb, unfortunately, doesn’t have this ultimate speed like Juan Pablo, but he compensates nearly every race.”

NH: Your involvement with developing young drivers started long before Red Bull you were involved with Gerhard Berger and there was young Austrian Marcus Oettinger. Would you like to share some memories of ones that departed too early?

Marko: “Marcus was very good. He was one of these rare talents coming from a place with money, and no racing history. He had an unbelievable accident and broke his neck. But there was another one Helmut Koenigg as well who was killed at Watkins Glen.

“At this time, [1970s] I was wondering if I’m doing the right thing helping young drivers. But I thought if I didn’t do it, someone else would do it. The risk at that time was so much higher. Fortunately, that changed a lot. There was a very good book title that sums up that era: When sex was safe, and racing dangerous.”

[This is the second chapter of an exclusive one-on-one interview conducted in Graz for GRANDPRIX247 by Nasir Hameed with Red Bull Consultant Dr. Helmut Marko.]