Interview: Marko on RBR's 'luxury problem'

Interview: Marko on RBR's 'luxury problem'

21 April 2017 – Red Bull has arguably developed the strongest junior programme in motorsport in recent years, introducing a World Champion in Sebastian Vettel, and two new race winners in Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, to F1. GPUpdate.net caught up with the man behind the scheme: Red Bull consultant Helmut Marko.

Did you always think the Junior Team would become so important?
No! When we started it, we didn't have a Formula 1 team, so it was more about supporting young drivers financially. Then all of a sudden we had two Formula 1 teams! Our approach changed because we thought to find a Formula 1 driver was not as difficult as to find a Formula 1 driver who can win a Grand Prix. We were stricter and only the ones who were really performing already in junior categories would keep going.

Obviously, there's a lot of talent spread across many categories each year. How does Red Bull decide on the drivers it will support and pick out 'special ones'?
Performance! They just have to win. But we of course consider what team they are in, the circumstances, the engine and so on. But I don't want to give you all the details of course!

If you look at Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr…
(Jumps in) You can't compare with Max. Max is so different. The education he had through his father in go-karting is unique and won't come that quick here [in Formula 1] again.

Sainz Jr. is in his third season at Toro Rosso, so patience is important, along with performance and development. How difficult is it make calls over their futures?
It's very difficult. You have to be at the right time at the right place.

Have you ever let a driver go and thought, 'Maybe that was not the right call'?
With Sébastien Buemi, but that happened in different circumstances at his time. You can see that he's doing very well in the World Endurance Championship, he's dominating Formula E, and he's doing a very good job in our simulator.

Could you give us a bit more of an insight into how you pick drivers for the Junior Team? Is there a group behind-the-scenes?
We have a good system! (Laughs)

Maybe it's working too well, as now you have a big pool of talent…
Yes, we have a luxury problem. It's better than to be like Mercedes or Ferrari.

Did you ever think it would be so difficult, with so many young drivers?
When we went into Formula 1 our goal was to be competitive and win one or the other Grand Prix, but to win four championships with a driver who came out of the Junior Team, and now having two other drivers who have won Grands Prix, it's far more than we expected and makes us happy.

Was Verstappen's performance at the Norisring (won all three races to make it six in a row) during the 2014 European Formula 3 season the most special thing you've seen from a young driver?
Yes!

And then you thought you had to sign him?
Well, we were already talking for a while. But we were talking about GP2, GP3... After that race, I called [his father] Jos and we looked at everything. We had a different approach which made him silent for a while. But no risk, no fun!

You signed another Dutch youngster, Richard Verschoor, in 2016. How do you view his development?
I saw him last year in Sochi. He made an overtaking manoeuvre around the outside, which was fantastic. He did quite well [in the Toyota Racing Series] in New Zealand. He had one weekend that cost him the championship, but I think he was the best rookie by far. Now we have to see how he will do in Renault 2.0. The tests are going OK, he's always in the top three, top five. But he has strong team-mates. We'll see how it goes.

Verschoor has already grown as a person. Do you see this a lot? How important is it that a driver can cope with the added pressure?
First of all, you must be quick, you must have the talent to drive quickly. Then, on top of this, you have to cope with the pressure. You must have the ability to make the team believe in you, build a support within the team. But that's up to the driver. The same happens in Formula 1. We don't interfere much. We let them develop as they have to learn to develop on their own. We also don't interfere in how to make interviews and so on; they can speak however they like, like in Formula 1.

So all that matters for you at the end of the year is performance?
Performance. Nothing else.

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