Red Bull’s big Imola upgrade boost with McLaren fightback written off

Thomas Maher
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, 2024 Miami Grand Prix.

Helmut Marko has downplayed the prospect of Red Bull being overcome by McLaren any time soon.

Red Bull’s Helmut Marko maintains he’s not worried about a potential title challenge from McLaren, despite their win in Miami.

McLaren became only the second team to beat Red Bull to a Grand Prix win in the last 18 months as Lando Norris took victory in Miami, with the British driver’s superior pace helped by a mid-race Safety Car that stymied Max Verstappen’s strategy.

Helmut Marko: Lando Norris will become more dangerous for us

Verstappen had been leading with relative ease during the opening half of the Miami Grand Prix, only for a mid-race Safety Car to come out after his pit stop and allow Norris to pit and take the lead.

With Norris leading Verstappen at the restart, one might have been forgiven for expecting the Dutch driver to sweep past, as he usually manages, but he lacked the pace to compete with the McLaren.

An error at the chicane had seen Verstappen clouting a bollard and do some damage to his floor, although the extent of the time loss hasn’t yet been clarified by Red Bull as Verstappen himself downplayed the impact of the mistake on his RB20’s performance.

McLaren had looked strong all weekend in Miami, particularly on Norris’ side of the garage as he utilised the latest upgrades produced by the Woking-based squad. These included a new front wing and new front suspension, a new floor, revised side pods, a new engine cover, revised front brake ducts, and revised cooling louvres.

It was a very comprehensive upgrade, and it brought McLaren into range to capitalise on Verstappen’s less-than-optimal race with enough pace to pull away from the Red Bull once in front.

Speaking to Austrian publication OE24, Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko said Verstappen and Norris may be very friendly off-track, but the British driver may become one to be feared on it.

“Max has a very friendly relationship with Norris,” he said.

“He often takes him with him on the plane, and they always arrange to meet up for sim racing. Max seems to have something to learn from Norris when it comes to partying. But now it is to be feared that Lando will become even more dangerous for him on the track. Because the pressure is now off.”

But any thoughts of needing to fear McLaren in the championship were quickly quashed by Marko, who said Red Bull’s own upgrade package for Imola should help put them back in front.

“I’m not worried, Norris is more than 50 points behind,” he said.

“Besides, we are bringing an upgrade to Imola, which I expect a lot from. But Miami shows that we have to concentrate on the sporting side of things.”

More on the latest Red Bull F1 news

👉 Adrian Newey left ‘shocked and surprised’ over Red Bull exit reaction

👉 Final Adrian Newey Red Bull project to break cover as RB17 release date confirmed

As for how extensive the upgrade will be, that remains to be seen. Asked about the team’s upgrade plans at the end of the Miami Grand Prix, team boss Christian Horner hinted it wouldn’t be a major change as he said “I don’t know about big packages these days”, while some reports suggest the updates will be quite minor.

With Adrian Newey and Pierre Wache taking the RB20 in a different development direction than had been underway with the dominant RB19, the changes are likely to be made for refinement – corrective measures that, in theory, could end up unlocking quite a bit of the car’s inherent performance.

With a normal practice schedule following two Sprint weekends, there’s also ample time to hone in the latest changes made to the car – although this will also apply to McLaren as they fettle the Miami upgrades, while Ferrari is also expecting to roll out new upgrades for the SF24.

Speaking to the media after the defeat in Miami, Horner’s position on McLaren’s competitiveness was more wary than Marko’s had been.

“They’ve obviously won the race, they had good pace in the second half of the race,” Horner said.

“They were quick on the medium in the sprint race quali, but we still managed two poles earlier this weekend, the sprint victory and we were leading the race had it not been for the Safety Car – but you can see they’ve definitely made a step forward.

“So it will be then interesting to see what happens over the next few races now once we head back to Europe.

“McLaren showed real pace last year at certain times, so how circuit-specific is it? We’ll see as we go through the next few races, but they’ve been very strong this weekend and Lando deserves the win.”

Read Next: Lando Norris set incredibly high bar for F1 career success after maiden win in Miami