While Mercedes’ blistering straight-line speed in Turkey remains a mystery to Red Bull, they do not suspect foul play from their rivals.
Many believe that both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ title battles will roll on all the way until the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP, but there is now a fear for Red Bull’s chances of reaching that stage after the Turkish Grand Prix.
Mercedes established authority over their rivals at Istanbul Park as Valtteri Bottas took a dominant victory from pole, inheriting that P1 slot from team-mate Lewis Hamilton who had dropped 10 places on the grid via an engine penalty.
Hamilton worked his way back to P5 across the line as he surrendered the Drivers’ Championship lead to Verstappen.
But Verstappen was among the first to say that Red Bull need more pace to stay in the fight, and Red Bull pinpointed a lot of Mercedes’ joys to their superior speed in a straight line, almost as if they were driving with DRS open across the lap.
That led to talk of suspicion over the Mercedes power unit, but Red Bull driver programme boss Marko clarified that there are no suggestions of illegal activity from his team.
The FIA did indeed recently confirm the Mercedes engine as legal after a recent challenge from Red Bull.
“The superiority of Mercedes was simply too great in Turkey. In wet conditions, Max Verstappen should normally have had no problem beating Bottas. But in Istanbul he didn’t have a chance to keep up with the pace of Hamilton’s team-mate,” Marko told F1-Insider.com.
“Their speed on the straights is a mystery to us. Sometimes they drove 15 km/h faster than us. That’s a difference like day and night. And this despite the fact that they had packed more downforce on the rear wing than we did.
“Especially with emptier tanks, they are vastly superior to us. At the beginning of the race we are still on an equal footing. That’s why Hamilton had such a hard time against [Yuki] Tsunoda.
“Later, when Hamilton attacked [Pierre] Gasly, he left him standing as if he were parking.
“I don’t think Mercedes did anything illegal, but since Silverstone something has been weird. That’s why it’s now up to us to research why they are suddenly so fast.
“Is it just the engine or something else? We now have to work day and night to uncover their secret and then fight back as soon as possible. It’s up to us.
“If the performance differences continue to be the same as in Istanbul, we will have a problem.
“Of the six tracks [remaining], only the circuits in Mexico and Sao Paulo play a little into our hands because of their altitude. The rest seems to be clearly ‘Mercedes Land’ at the moment.”
If it was not for Tsunoda’s defence against Hamilton which Marko mentioned, followed by Sergio Perez’s successful bid to keep Hamilton behind later in the race, Verstappen’s P2 would surely have been under threat in Turkey.
“Our AlphaTauri junior Yuki Tsunoda held him up brilliantly at the beginning of the race,” said Marko.
“If he had passed him faster, he might even have won the race. Because if he had made it behind Bottas, there would certainly have been a swap of places.”
Verstappen was far from settled in the RB16B across the Turkish Grand Prix race weekend, and Marko confirmed that Red Bull are looking into the cause of understeer which they “couldn’t get rid of” for their driver.
“It wasn’t optimal in Istanbul, Max was constantly complaining about understeer, which we simply couldn’t get rid of,” said Marko of the chassis.
“We keep fighting. Another positive thing is how relaxed Max is about the current situation. He remains very calm and only points out the disadvantages he has at the moment.”
Do Red Bull need to be worried?
Do Red Bull need to be worried about the last six races of the season?