Helmut Marko weighs in on Mercedes’ upgrades ‘without wanting to be arrogant’

Michelle Foster
Helmut Marko hugs Sergio Perez. Azerbaijan April 2023

Red Bull's Helmut Marko hugs Sergio Perez as Max Verstappen watches. Azerbaijan April 2023

Red Bull have maintained their advantage over their rivals from Bahrain to Spain with Helmut Marko saying the only thing that has changed is the name of the leading rival.

Red Bull and Mercedes are at odds over whether the Brackley squad’s W14 is a notable step forward with Toto Wolff saying the gap is down to “two to three” tenths while Christian Horner says it “hasn’t changed”.

The numbers, though, says it has.

While the best-placed Mercedes driver was 50s behind race winner Max Verstappen at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, in Spain he was just 24s away at the chequered flag.

The overall gap though between Red Bull and the best non-Red Bull car is almost stagnant with Fernando Alonso 26s down on second-placed Sergio Perez in Bahrain and Lewis Hamilton 24 off the pace in Spain.

‘They didn’t really get any closer to us’

It has Marko crowing as, “without wanting to be arrogant”, Red Bull have maintained their advantage over the chasing pack despite bringing fewer updates to the RB19 than Mercedes with their B-spec car and Ferrari with their new sidepods have brought to the track.

The only thing that has changed is which team is runner-up on the day.

“The updates from our competitors have only brought about a shift,” he told OE24. “But without wanting to be arrogant, they didn’t really get any closer to us, they just took turns.

“And that’s good for us again, because our lead in the World Championship is increasing with every race.”

That is now up to 135 points over Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship while Verstappen is 53 points ahead of Sergio Perez in the Drivers’, and a further 18 up on Alonso.

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Verstappen’s Spanish Grand Prix victory was his fifth of this season and Red Bull’s seventh, that’s seven from seven.

It has rivals fearing this season would be a whitewash, which was a prediction George Russell made right back at the start of the championship.

Asked if Red Bull could do it, Marko replied: “It’s possible. If Max has a defect or a collision, Checo [Perez] could step in – if he’s in good shape.

“But for now, please, let’s win the 100th GP in Montreal – and then come to the Austrian GP in Spielberg.”

No team in Formula 1 history has ever won every race in a season with McLaren coming the closest when they won all but one in 1988 with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.

Hails Max Verstappen’s ‘superiority’

Racing towards a third successive Drivers’ Championship title, it has been said the 25-year-old is on track to become one of F1’s greatest ever with some pundits predicting he could challenge the record of seven World titles.

Marko believes his driver is showing a “superiority” that has never before been seen.

“You also saw how Max did the fastest lap with old tyres at the end,” he said.

“He is, as they say, like he’s from another planet at the moment. He achieved a superiority that we’ve never had before.”

He did, however, give the team a moment of worry when he went for that fastest lap given the Dutchman was told not to as he was one infringement away from a five-second penalty for exceeding track limits.

“That’s Max, you can’t drive that out of him,” Marko said. “He always has to push himself to the limit, as the warning for crossing the track barrier showed.

“But that is what distinguishes a really big one: He always delivers.”