Helmut Marko puts Red Bull rivals on notice for upcoming Japanese Grand Prix

Jamie Woodhouse
Red Bull driver programme boss Helmut Marko on the F1 grid in Bahrain.

Red Bull driver programme boss Helmut Marko.

After the shock setback for Red Bull in Melbourne, senior advisor Helmut Marko has warned any rivals smelling blood that he is “very optimistic” for the Japanese Grand Prix as the championship leaders look to strike back.

Red Bull put a serious dent in the ambitions of rivals looking to reel them in with a dominant start to F1 2024, Max Verstappen heading 1-2 finishes for the team in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Australia looked like it would be a similar story after Verstappen comfortably secured pole and the lead at the race start, but it all unravelled from there.

Helmut Marko ‘very optimistic’ for Red Bull chances at Suzuka

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz would pass Verstappen for the lead on lap two, the Red Bull driver then complaining over the radio that all was not well in his RB20. It would prove to be a brake issue which set in on the rear right, a terminal one at that, as Verstappen was forced to return to the pit lane and retire the car.

This has left question marks over whether Sainz, who went on to win the race in dominant fashion, had passed Verstappen on pure pace, while Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez down in P5 and nearly a minute behind Sainz further blurred the picture as Red Bull claimed that a visor tear-off getting stuck in his floor had cost him performance and exacerbated tyre wear.

But, if Ferrari and perhaps McLaren were looking at this as a true sign that they are right there with Red Bull now, Marko suggests they should think again, as he is “very optimistic” for Suzuka as Verstappen chases his third win in a row at the circuit.

In reference to Perez’s unwanted passenger in the form of that tear-off, Marko told Laola1: “As a result, he was no longer able to set the same times as the front runners that he had previously achieved. The lack of downforce also increased tyre wear.

“Suzuka is a power track that suits us, Max is always great there. I’m very optimistic.”

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Of course, Red Bull could encounter further trouble regardless of their pace if the reliability woes return at Suzuka, but Marko has “no worries” at all that this will happen.

“Max’s brakes broke, the exact cause is still being investigated,” he said.

“But it’s not the brake caliper. It’s more of an assembly issue, but that’s still being investigated. I have no worries for Japan, that’s not a problem.”

Verstappen’s Drivers’ Championship lead is now down to four points over Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, while Red Bull’s buffer over Ferrari in the Constructors’ standings has been reduced to the same margin.

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