Red Bull’s Helmut Marko says a team-mate cannot beat Max Verstappen on a level playing field, and it is his job to tell them that.
Red Bull as an organisation has always made a point of putting trust in youth, and that his been no different in Formula 1 with Max Verstappen taking that to the extreme.
Aged only 17 when he debuted with their junior team Toro Rosso, Verstappen is now a two-time World Champion with Red Bull in Formula 1 at the age of 25.
And in recent times it has been a struggle just for his team-mates to keep up, Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon both dropped after struggling to contend with Verstappen’s performance level.
The experienced Sergio Perez has largely narrowed that deficit since he took on the challenge, but Verstappen still is the clear standout performer in Red Bull machinery.
Marko says a driver questions the car and their driving style when faced with having Verstappen as a team-mate, and it it his job to step in and say they must understand that they cannot beat Verstappen.
“It’s not nice for the drivers to have Max Verstappen as a team-mate,” Marko told Road and Track, as per Motorsport.com.
“After all, Max is special, his father brought him up in a tremendously tough but successful way. Team-mates compare their cars with his – do we really have the same car, how can I beat him then? On a level playing field, you simply can’t.
“So they try to change the configuration of the car or their driving style. Of course, you can’t accept that you’re not as good as the other guy, but at some point you have to know that someone is special and you can’t beat them. It’s up to me to make that clear to the drivers. Is it cruel? I don’t think so.”
Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez are the right balance for Red Bull
It is all well and good looking at Verstappen as an elite talent that a team-mate cannot match, but before Perez’s arrival, Red Bull had the problem of Verstappen being almost too far ahead.
Mercedes were the leading force in 2019 and 2020 when Red Bull were looking to return to the title picture, but while Verstappen was often looking to pick up any scraps at the front, Gasly and Albon were sometimes having struggles to just clear the midfield, particularly over one lap. Perez went down the same path at times in 2021.
Such a gulf was far from ideal for Red Bull, but now Perez, aided by the strength of Red Bull’s 2022 challenger, the RB18, was able to step up his performances in 2022 and help to secure a comfortable Constructors’ Championship victory for Red Bull, their first since 2013.
This represents the type of first and second driver combination that can be rewarding for Red Bull, although they would surely like Perez to move a little closer to Verstappen, thus creating a competitiveness similar to what Mercedes had with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Red Bull will very likely remain a leading team in 2023 alongside Ferrari, with Mercedes expected to return to form, so Perez once more will have a vital role to play in supporting the title ambitions of Red Bull and Verstappen also.