Helmut Marko believes Lewis Hamilton’s driving is already being affected by the strong challenge Max Verstappen is posing to his dominance.
In pursuit of a record-breaking eighth Drivers’ World Championship title, Hamilton is facing potentially his biggest threat for several seasons in the shape of the 23-year-old Dutchman.
Verstappen trails Hamilton by one point in the standings heading into round three of the campaign, the Portuguese Grand Prix, but will feel he should have won both of the first two races instead of just the one at Imola – he finished a close second in Bahrain when unable to pass the World Champion’s Mercedes within track limits.
Red Bull advisor Marko has pointed to the evidence of the first braking zone at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, where Verstappen claimed the race lead, as showing Hamilton already knows he is under more pressure than at any time in recent years.
“Hamilton has had no structural opposition, which has now emerged with Red Bull and Max Verstappen,” said the 78-year-old Austrian in an interview with RTL. “And apparently this leads to reactions, which is humanly understandable.
“It was amazing to me that Hamilton did not concede in the first corner [at Imola] while driving on the outside because it was clear he could not win this duel.
“This shows Hamilton does not want to accept this opposition. He is resisting it with great ferocity.”
However, Marko feels the real winners in F1’s latest big rivalry will be the fans and the sport itself.
“When they are in the car and go into a corner together, it is not about tactics. Then it’s just man-to-man,” he added.
“That’s very good for the crowd, while for us as a team the tension increases dramatically.”
As well as Verstappen throwing down an individual title challenge to Hamilton, also of major importance to Red Bull is a sustained bid for the Constructors’ crown – and Marko is hoping that will receive a boost at Portimao this week.
Specifically, he is hoping to see a first top-three finish for Sergio Perez since he joined as Verstappen’s team-mate for this season after an up-and-down start for the Mexican so far.
“The basic goal in Portugal should be that we get two drivers on the podium,” said Marko.
“A win would be nice, that’s the declared goal.”