Helmut Marko thinks Max Verstappen’s youth could be decisive if his World Championship battle with Lewis Hamilton goes to the wire.
Five races into the season and already the 2021 Drivers’ title race is a head-to-head affair, with Verstappen four points ahead of Hamilton after his Monaco Grand Prix victory as the reigning champion finished only seventh.
A further 45 points back in third is McLaren’s Lando Norris, with the other Mercedes and Red Bull drivers, Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez, another nine and 12 adrift respectively.
At 23, Verstappen is 13 years Hamilton’s junior and even though the Briton is in fantastic physical shape, Red Bull advisor Marko suspects the younger man may just have that bit more energy at the end of what is intended to be a gruelling, record-breaking 23-race campaign.
Asked by Sport Bild why he thinks Red Bull can get the better of Mercedes after seven years of dominance from the German manufacturer, Marko said: “Because Max belongs to the younger generation.
“It’s a long season and I hope he has more reserves, even though Hamilton has driven incredible races so far this year.
“We’ve been humiliated by Mercedes for seven years, unsuccessfully chasing the title. Now we see the chance to strike back. We will mobilise all reserves and possibilities to achieve this.”
But alongside Verstappen’s youthful exuberance sits an increasing “maturity”, according to Marko, which enhances the attributes that could enable him to wrest the title from Hamilton.
“He has certainly reached a different level of maturity,” Marko told Sky Germany after the Monaco Grand Prix. “We kept him on his toes with fuel modes and such. He had to understand quite a lot.
“When he started asking who had the fastest lap and with what time, we immediately blocked him and told him ‘forget all that!’”
Marko, also the head of Red Bull’s driver development programme, concurs with the team’s other driver, Perez, and Christian Horner that the Mexican needs to step up his qualifying performances.
Perez, in his first year with the team, has been much stronger on Sundays than Saturdays so far, apart from a front-row start at Imola where the exact reverse scenario played out.
“So far, he has simply been too weak in qualifying,” said Marko with typical bluntness. “If he was on a par with [Valtteri] Bottas, I don’t think Mercedes would have deployed a two-stop strategy.
“This is currently our biggest handicap – we all only have two cars.”