‘Hasn’t been as bad for long time’ – Helmut Marko’s alarming Red Bull conclusion after hard-fought Imola win

Jamie Woodhouse
Max Verstappen in conversation with Helmut Marko in the Red Bull garage at the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen in conversation with Helmut Marko.

Red Bull senior advisor Helmut Marko said it has been a “long time” since they were on the ropes to this degree, highlighting Max Verstappen as the sole reason for their victory at Imola.

After McLaren’s Lando Norris shocked the Formula 1 paddock by driving his heavily-upgraded McLaren to a first career victory in Miami, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin all looked to respond with upgrade packages of their own at Imola.

Red Bull Imola victory ‘thanks to’ Max Verstappen

It was far from a smooth start to proceedings for Red Bull and Verstappen though, as they failed to feature in the top three throughout practice and went into qualifying facing doubts over their ability to challenge for pole. Verstappen was at peace with just making the top five but he went and stuck it on pole, maintaining his 100 per cent F1 2024 record.

The Championship leader then followed that up on race day by securing the win, withstanding a valiant late effort from Norris to make it back-to-back wins, as Marko declared that Red Bull has Verstappen to thank for pulling that victory out of the bag.

“It’s very impressive to see,” Marko told De Telegraaf in reference to Verstappen’s Imola win.

“Max doesn’t even make a small mistake, despite so much pressure from behind.

“We win here thanks to him and because he took pole position on Saturday.

“For example, if we had been third on the grid here, we could have forgotten about the win.”

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Marko confirmed that he was “certainly worried” during that Norris assault late in the race, pointing to “a few moments” for Norris which crucially kept him out of DRS range against Verstappen.

“I’m only going to feel older if there are more races like this,” said Marko with a smile in reference to that final stint.

“On that [hard] tyre, we saw after just a few laps that the temperature dropped and that we didn’t have the speed. I was certainly worried.

“Fortunately, Lando had a few moments, so he couldn’t use the DRS system in the last laps.”

But, with McLaren having backed up their progress at Imola, confidence has grown that this version of the MCL38 can continue to be a threat to Red Bull’s RB20 in the coming races, Red Bull having won the vast majority of grands prix held in F1’s ground effect era.

And Marko confirmed that Red Bull have not been in such choppy waters “for a long time”, with balance over one lap and race runs an issue at Imola.

“We have been able to turn things around more often during a weekend, but it hasn’t been as bad as it is now for a long time,” he said.

“Both over one lap and during the long runs, we struggled to find the balance. Normally, it’s one or the other.”

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, who managed only P8 at Imola, conceded the P2 spot in the Drivers’ Championship to Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc heading into Leclerc’s home race, the Monaco Grand Prix.

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