‘Annoying’ Charles Leclerc leaves Helmut Marko on tenterhooks at Suzuka

Jamie Woodhouse
Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko. Canada June 2023.

Helmut Marko walks through the paddock.

While Red Bull and Max Verstappen made a very positive start to the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, Charles Leclerc has caught the attention of senior advisor Helmut Marko in an “annoying” way.

FP1 proved to be the only session of representative running at Suzuka on Friday, with rain, plus apparent concerns over the amount of wet tyre available, making FP2 an hour which featured very limited on-track action.

Charles Leclerc alerts Helmut Marko with FP1 form

Red Bull’s three-time World Champion Verstappen comes into the Suzuka race weekend looking for his third Japanese Grand Prix victory in a row, with FP1 suggesting he very well could pull it off as he topped the session from team-mate Sergio Perez.

However, the P6 finisher in FP1, Ferrari driver Leclerc, has caught Marko’s attention with an “annoying”, or perhaps better described as a “really fast” run, as Marko is left pondering how much fuel was in the Ferrari for that Leclerc effort.

The Monegasque driver finished FP1 half a second down on Verstappen’s P1 time of a 1:30.056.

“Charles Leclerc’s run was a bit annoying,” Marko told ORF. “Or actually not annoying, but he was really fast. In that regard, we have to see how much fuel he had on board for that run.”

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Suzuka marks the introduction of Red Bull’s first upgrades for their F1 2024 challenger, the RB20, with their performance out of the blocks suggesting that the updates have had a positive effect.

Indeed, Marko confirmed that the upgraded RB20 worked as expected from the off, which will not exactly be music to the ears of the likes of Leclerc and Ferrari, with Leclerc having reduced Verstappen’s Drivers’ Championship lead to four points going into the Japanese Grand Prix.

“It’s a comprehensive package and that package did exactly what we expected it to do in the first run,” said Marko. “We are doing well with the technical changes we have made.”

FP1 at Suzuka also saw the debut of Japanese racer Ayumu Iwasa at Red Bull’s second team RB, as the 22-year-old took over Ricciardo’s car for that opening hour of practice.

He ended the session P16, nine-tenths down on compatriot and team-mate Yuki Tsunoda, a performance which earned the praise of Marko.

“Iwasa cut a very good figure at Racing Bulls,” said Marko. “The gap to Yuki Tsunoda is within a second.

“That is a very positive performance.”

RB scored their first points of the season last time out in Australia courtesy of Tsunoda’s P7 finish.

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