'No excuses': Marko sets five-win target for Red Bull

Red Bull motorsports consultant Dr Helmut Marko says that the team will have no excuses if it fails to win at least five Grand Prix races in 2020.

That’s the same target he set for the squad last season. However, despite a campaign that in many ways exceeded expectations, Red Bull ultimately still fell short of that objective.

“We failed to reach our full potential [last year] since we could win at least five races,” Marko admitted to Kronen Zeitung recently.

Max Verstappen took the chequered flag on three occasions in total in Austria, Germany and Brazil. The Dutch driver also claimed his first F1 career pole position in Hungary, followed by a second in the penultimate race of the season at Interlagos.

But that was still below expectations of what was possible for the team as a whole, says Marko. “One of the reasons [we didn’t win five races is] that we have been involved in quite a few unfortunate situations and collisions.

“On the other hand, we were a little late in the development of the car,” he acknowledged. “The Honda engine and chassis only began to improve later in the season.”

Now Marko says that Red Bull must improve on last year’s hat-trick of victories this season, which will be their second using power units supplied by Honda.

“I’m sure the year 2020 will be different,” he said. “I don’t want to pin down to a specific number [of wins] but I think it should be more than five.”

Marko predicted that this year, Red Bull would be “at the front from the first race”.

Max Verstappen (NLD), Red Bull Racing

“We want to fight for the World Championship and we know that we have to be competitive with the chassis right from the start,” he told Motorsport-Total.com.

“Honda has made gains for next year,” he pointed out. “So after everything that has been achieved so far, we assume that this will happen.

“That means we have no excuses,” he added.

Another reason that Red Bull felt they were locked out of the battle for the constructors championship in 2019 was the inconsistent early season form of Pierre Gasly, who completed the first 12 races of the season as Verstappen’s team mate.

As head of Red Bull’s junior driver development programme, Marko made the call to switch Gasly with Alexander Albon. He maintains that it was the right decision for both the team and drivers involved.

“Gasly just flourished again at Toro Rosso,” Marko told Motorsport.com. “I would say it’s an opportunity, new opportunities – not in any way a ‘downgrade’.

“Fortunately for him and for us. I think he has learned his lesson and has drawn the right conclusions from those six months at Red Bull. I think he can do a lot in the future.”

Gasly went on to finish on the podium in Brazil. He stays at Toro Rosso – now renamed AlphaTauri – in 2020 alongside Daniil Kvyat, while Albon will continue to partner Verstappen at Red Bull.

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Horner hopes for no 'rabbits out of the hat' in 2020

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says that all the signs are there for a ‘classic’ championship season in 2020 – providing none of the teams are able to pull off a last minute surprise advantage over the rest of the grid.

“Unless somebody pulls a rabbit out of a hat, I think we’re set for a really exciting year next year between, Mercedes, Ferrari and ourselves,” Horner told Motorsport.com. “It could be a real classic season.”

Although Mercedes described 2019 as one of their toughest and closest seasons so far, they still finished more than 200 points clear of Ferrari in the constructors championship.

And Lewis Hamilton easily clinched the drivers title with 413 points, compared to 278 for his nearest non-Mercedes challenger, Red Bull’s own Max Verstappen.

But Horner said he would be surprised if the Silver Arrows were able to repeat that sort of dominance in the standings again in 2020, given that the sport’s technical rules are essentially unchanged this year.

“We’ve got continuity across all aspects of next year with drivers – with regulations, with engine supply, with engine regulation,” he explained.

Horner drew comparisons with the last time that the rules had been unchanged between seasons, which turned out well for Red Bull at the time.

“If I look back to 2017, we had a fantastic car at the start of the year. We should have been on the front row in Melbourne, and we won the second race in China.

“We had a very, very competitive car [at the start of 2017],” he continued. “That was with stability of regulations, and we have that again from 2019 into 2020.”

Horner added that he expected the Red Bull car that will line up in Melbourne in March will essentially be an upgrade of the RB15 which closed out last season in Abu Dhabi, without any big changes being planned.

That should enable Red Bull to get a stronger, more consistent start to their campaign compared with 12 months ago, when off-season changes to the aerodynamic and tyre specifications intended to encourage closer on-track racing caused Red Bull some early headaches.

“The front wing regulation change and the tyre change over the winter seemed to affect us perhaps more than our opponents,” Horner acknowledged.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB15.

The team had also been busy transitioning from one engine provider to another, working with new partners Honda to improve the performance of the power units to put them on a level footing with Mercedes and Ferrari.

“At that time we were still catching up on from the power perspective,” Horner concurred. “But I think from Austria onwards, we really got on top of that.”

Red Bull was certainly increasingly competitive as the season went on. Verstappen clinched three wins at Austria, Germany and Brazil, and successfully claimed his maiden pole position in Hungary followed by another in Brazil.

“The second half of the year for us had been very competitive,” Horner agreed, while sounding a note of caution about what 2020 lay in store for the team. “You can’t gauge what others are doing [until pre-season testing].”

Teams aren’t expected to make big developments to their car this year, given that a major overhaul to F1’s sporting and technical regulations is planned for 2021.

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Honda boss says Verstappen 'is like seeing Senna'

Honda F1 managing director Masashi Yamamoto says that Max Verstappen is a key part of the company’s hopes and plans for its future in Formula 1.

The 22-year-old Dutch driver has been a sensation since joining the sport in 2015, initially with Toro Rosso and subsequently promoted to the senior Red Bull team.

In 102 starts so far, Verstappen has picked up eight race victories with his current team, including three in 2019 after the switch from Renault to Honda engines. Last year also saw him claim his maiden F1 pole position in Hungary, with a repeat later in the year at Brazil.

It’s led Yamamoto to compare Verstappen to a three-time world champion and icon of the sport, Ayrton Senna.

“He’s young, but his driving is really impressive,” he told Motorsport.com this week. “It looks like seeing a young Senna, with his relationship with Honda.”

That relationship between driver and manufacturer and driver has already grown to be a strong and close one in the last 12 months.

“Max maybe pays respect to Honda, he feels Honda is familiar,” suggested Yamamoto. “The [Honda] badge he showed on the podium in Austria proved that he was very happy as well.

“[That means] we want to provide a good engine for him,” he said, adding hurriedly in case there should be any doubt: “Of course, all the four drivers are very important for us

“He also has been to the F1 R&D centre and our mass production site,” he continued. “There’s many, many people and he has actually seen it. He went through a tunnel of people getting high fives, like one kilometre long!

Masashi Yamamoto (JPN) Honda Racing F1 Managing Director.

“The passion we showed towards winning made the relationship stronger with him,” Yamamoto insisted. “That kind of thing maybe gave him a stronger impression about Honda, and a stronger commitment to Honda.

“As Honda, we see him as a very important factor with Honda’s project,” he summarised.

Honda’s performance is certainly hugely improved since the dark time of its troubled three-year partnership with McLaren from 2015 until 2017. The current Honda 1.6 V6T power unit was seen as the most improved engine on the grid last season, possibly now even a match for those from Mercedes and Ferrari.

It’s possible that Verstappen could be in the title mix in 2020, and that Red Bull itself could be contending for the constructors championship that it last won in 2013 with Sebastian Vettel.

The amount of money being poured into the F1 project had raised questions about whether the parent business might pull the plug on the endeavour. But Honda confirmed recently that it will definitely continue to supply engines to Red Bull and Toro Rosso until at least the end of 2021.

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Horner: Verstappen the most 'in form' driver at the moment

Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner says Max Verstappen is “right there”, ready to challenge for the world championship as F1’s most in form driver.

The praise lavished upon Verstappen by Horner comes after the Dutchman’s strong run to the checkered flag in the final races of the 2019 season.

Verstappen conquered his third win of the year in Brazil in dominant fashion and finished runner-up to Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi.

On the back of his driver’s form and Honda’s progress, Horner is convinced Verstappen can give Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, not to mention Ferrari’s chargers, more than a run for their money next season, if the team gets its future RN16 right.

“He’s in a position now where he’s more than capable of challenging for the world championship and we need to give him a car that he can do that with,” Horner said.

“If we can do that, I’ve got every confidence that he can take the fight to Lewis, Mercedes and Ferrari.

“He’s right there. His form has been fantastic and I believe he’s the most in form F1 driver at the moment.”

©RedBull

Putting a consistently strong piece of equipment in Verstappen’s hands is a tall order. But Horner believes that the team’s recent performance level coupled with F1’s regulation stability for 2020 bodes well for the Milton Keynes-based outfit.

“I think we’re in the best position we’ve been in since the change in regulations at the end of 2013,” Horner added.

“Red Bull’s philosophy to invest in youth means we have emerging young talent in all areas of the business which is really starting to pay dividends and the team is on a charge.

“We need to come out of the blocks competitively next year, Mercedes are still the benchmark going into next year so we need to try and push them from the first race in order to take the challenge to them.

“There is a real buzz and anticipation in the factory at the moment, so we need to capitalise on that and build on the positive momentum from 2019.”

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Zak Brown just bought a factory tour of Red Bull Racing!

Up and down the pitlane, F1 teams rival in ingenuity to get a sneak peak at what’s going on under the skin of a competitor’s design, but McLaren’s Zak Brown wants to see where it’s all coming from.

Spy games have always been part of Formula 1, but whereas in the golden age of motorsport, before the era of closed garages or concealing screens, when an engineer would just walk up to Colin Chapman’s latest creation in the pitlane and freely eyeball the design, today’s snooping involves various ploys and tactics to gain knowledge.

Teams employ photographers who snap cars from all angles, on and off the track, while Red Bull tech boss Adrian Newey can often be seen strolling on the grid before a race, peering at anything of interest to his designer’s eyes, and sending the good people at Ferrari into a frenzy whenever he pauses for a gaze at the red cars.

But Brown has taken the gamesmanship to the next level, although it’s all for a good cause.

The Halow Project – promoted and supported by 1996 F1 world champion Damon Hill – is a charity which supports young people with learning disabilities on their journey into and through adulthood.

The charity set up an auction this week, with one of the prizes being a guided tour of Red Bull’s Milton Keynes factory by Mr. design guru himself Adrian Newey.

For Brown, the opportunity to get a glimpse into the sanctuary where it all happens for Red Bull was too good to pass up, so the McLaren boss forked out a generous amount for the privilege.

However, valuable intel will be hard to come by for Brown.

“Nothing to see there Zak, moving on…”

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Verstappen: Red Bull form can deliver 'early start' in 2020

Aston Martin Red Bull’s Max Verstappen believes Red Bull can carry its current form into next year and hit the ground running in Melbourne next March.

Verstappen and his team displayed consistency in the early part of the 2019 season but fell short of being able to challenge Mercedes for race wins.

Gradually however, the bulls gained momentum, rewarding the Dutchman with a couple of wins in Austria and Germany.

The Milton Keynes-based outfit under-performed relative to Ferrari and Mercedes thereafter before Verstappen beat his front-running rivals fair and square in Brazil.

“We learned a lot throughout the whole season,” Verstappen told Sky Sports News at a Red Bull event in Abu Dhabi GP. “What went well and what we did wrong or didn’t do so well.

“We’ll try to work over the winter of course to try and make everything better, the whole package.”

Red Bull has typically been slow to ramp up its performance after the start of a season, but Verstappen is confident his team will be able to challenge for race wins from the outset in 2020.

“You can clearly see throughout the end of the year now [Red Bull have been strong]. Of course, in general we have always been like that, but I really have a lot of confidence that it’s not just now.

“I think we can really transform that into an early start next year. That’s at least the target.”

Is a genuine title challenge therefore finally in the cards for Red Bull and Verstappen next season?

“That’s what we are going for,” said the 22-year-old charger. “You never know, so it’s 50-50. It’s yes or no.

“Now one more race to go so we’ll try to have a good weekend and try to finish it off with good feelings going into the winter break.”

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Horner remains impressed by Albon despite missed podium

Alexander Albon might have missed out on his first F1 podium on Sunday, but the Red Bull driver can still hold his head up high according to team boss Christian Horner.

Albon started the Brazilian Grand Prix from fifth place on the grid and benefitted from the retirements of Valtteri Bottas and both Ferraris. He was running in second place behind team mate Max Verstappen when the race restarted following a late safety car.

Lewis Hamilton had stopped for fresh tyres under the caution and was much faster than those around him when racing resumed – but in his haste to catch the race leader, he clumsily made contact with Albon who was sent spinning.

The incident meant that Albon ended up in 15th place, while Hamilton lost a podium finish after being penalised for spinning Albon.

Hamilton immediately apologised to the rookie driver after the race, and Horner absolved him of any blame and praised him for an outstanding drive.

“It was a huge shame for him to lose that podium on the penultimate lap,” Horner told Crash.net after the race.

“Unfortunately on the last lap, Lewis went for a gap that was rapidly diminishing and contact was made. That was a 1-2 finish for the team and second place for Alex taken away.

“Lewis has obviously put his hand up and apologised but unfortunately it doesn’t get Alex’s podium back,” he continued. “But he can leave here with his head held high.

“He looked really comfortable racing world champions,” Horner added. “He’s now racing wheel-to-wheel with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel and Ferraris and he’s making great progress.

“Okay he didn’t get the trophy, but he’s impressed the whole team with his performance.”

Albon arrives at Brazil secure in the knowledge that he would remain at Red Bull in 2020. This time last year he was a very late signing for Toro Rosso, and was only promoted to the senior Red Bull team over the summer.

“It’s an encouraging signal for next year,” Horner pointed out. “He’s impressed his whole team with his race craft.”

Alexander Albon (THA) Red Bull Racing RB15 and Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W10 battle for position.

Albon said he wouldn’t bear any grudges against Hamilton for the clash and that it had just been one of those racing incidents in the heat of the moment.

“Of course I’m frustrated but I’m not angry, I’m just upset,” he said. I wanted that podium and we deserved it as it was on merit.

“Obviously Lewis had good grip once he pitted and I think he would’ve got me eventually into turn 1, but I thought worst case scenario we had P3.

“I had a good gap to Lewis and I wasn’t worrying about him. I went into the corner deep just to cover him so he didn’t get any ideas, and then there’s a blind spot and obviously we made contact.

“Of course he didn’t do it on purpose, it’s just one of those things,”he shrugged. “It’s done now and we’ll focus on the positives before the next race.”

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Marko 'annoyed' by Red Bull setbacks given 'fast car'

Red Bull motorsport boss Helmut Marko admitted to being frustrated by Max Verstappen’s inability to challenge for top spoils in Mexico given his car’s speed advantage on hard tyres during the race.

Verstappen’s Mexican Grand Prix suffered a setback at the outset when the Dutchman spared with Lewis Hamilton in the first corner and then picked up a puncture when dueling with Mercedes’ second driver Valtteri Bottas.

That contact forced an early pitstop on Verstappen who then fought his way through the field and back up to sixth with a spirited drive on the hard tyre.

Marko admitted Verstappen could have been a bit more careful during his skirmish with Hamilton in the first corner given his car’s speed advantage as he later demonstrated during his stint on the hard compound tyre.

“Max was two seconds faster than the leader on the race on the hard tyres,” the Austrian told Auto Motor und Sport.

“If you have such a fast car then that’s really annoying.

“That [the first corner] was a bit unfortunate. Hamilton went a little off the line and then got too close to Max who went on to the grass.

“Unfortunately, it was still a bit wet. That’s how he lost so much time.”

Referring to Hamilton’s post-race comments about the need to give Verstappen extra space during wheel-to-wheel battles, Marko suggested that the Mercedes driver had failed to do just that at Turn 1, and neither did Bottas a few laps later.

“Hamilton did not do that in the first corner, I saw him leave no extra space there,” affirmed Marko.

“Bottas could have been a bit more careful. It looked like he did not see Max. And then he slashes the tyre for us. The maneuver by Max was actually very good. But the result was unfortunately very bad.”

For Marko, the takeaway from Mexico is that despite last weekend’s disappointing result, Red Bull’s performance level will allow it to challenge for race wins in the final races of the 2019 season.

“We’ve always had a fast car except for Singapore and Russia,” he said.

“In Singapore, we spoiled the setup, in Russia, the new fuel was not available. There was a lack of power.

“But I expect that we can go for the victories on the next tracks.”

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Horner: Red Bull building momentum despite 'oddball' Singapore

Red Bull’s Christian Horner believes his team has been building its momentum in the latter part of the season despite an “oddball” performance last month in Singapore.

Red Bull was the first team to defeat Mercedes this year, thanks to Max Verstappen’s win in Austria.

The Milton Keynes-based outfit repeated the feat in Germany, but its strength relative to its front-running rivals has subsided since the end of F1’s summer break.

While Red Bull never anticipated winning on power circuits Spa and Monza, it was singled out as a clear favourite to take top spoils at Singapore. But set-up issues completely quashed its prospects at Marina Bay.

“For me the oddball event was Singapore. We undershot there,” Horner told Motorsport.com.

“We didn’t extract as much out of the car as the potential of the car had. I think it was predominantly a setup issue. And I think we have understood it subsequent to the event.

“It was a shame because Singapore is a circuit – we still managed to get a podium out of it and beat both Mercedes – but you could not help but feel that we had not maximised our potential.”

Since Singapore, Horner considers Red Bull’s results as having been “on par” with expectations, taking into account Ferrari’s significant step forward since Spa. He insists his team and Honda are nicely building their momentum in anticipation of 2020

“The momentum that we have built this year, it was always going to be a transitionary year,” explained the Briton.

“I think what Honda have done in improving each of the engines that have been introduced [is positive], and I think chassis wise for sure we took a bigger hit on the front wing regs than perhaps some of our competitor

“But having understood that and worked our way through that, it very much feels like we are building good momentum in the latter stage of development of this car into 2020.”

As far as Horner is concerned, the concerted effort by Red Bull and Honda and the subsequent results achieved this year all bode well for a competitive campaign next season.

“I think collectively there are a lot of good things going on and this year has been very much a transitionary year,” he added.

“I think working with the engineers at Sakura and Milton Keynes, they have really gelled extremely well, and I think we will start to see the benefits of that hopefully during the course of next year.”

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Albon has 'confidence and direction' heading to Mexico

Red Bull driver Alexander Albon is feeling buoyed up after getting his best-ever F1 result in Suzuka, and intends to carry that success forward into Mexico.

Albon qualified for the Japanese Grand Prix with exactly the same time as his team mate Max Verstappen. And while he dropped two spots at the start, he soon battled his way back and finished in fourth place, while Verstappen retired after first lap contact with Charles Leclerc.

It’s put the London-born Thai driver in high spirits and left him hungry for more as he seeks to overhaul Pierre Gasly – his predecessor at Red Bull – the drivers championship.

“After getting my best result of the season in Japan last week, I’ve got good confidence and direction heading to Mexico,” he said in the team’s race preview this week.

“Japan felt like my best weekend with the team, and we’re gelling more and more so I look forward to carrying that momentum into Mexico.

“Historically it’s been a good track for Red Bull, with pole position and a win there last year, so obviously that’s positive.”

With just 17 Grand Prix races under his belt, Albon acknowledged that his lack of experience at a number of overseas tracks was perhaps his biggest obstacle at this stage of the season.

“Mexico and the US will be the last back to back races of the season and I can’t wait to get out there and check out both tracks.

“Like Suzuka, [the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez] will be another new track for me but this one looks a little more forgiving,” he said.

“I’m really excited to drive in the infield section where all the fans are, as I’ve heard that’s pretty special.”

Alexander Albon (THA) Red Bull Racing.

Meanwhile Albon has been basking in some well-earned praise for his recent outings, including from some people in the F1 paddock key to his future in the sport.

“Alex did an amazing job to match Max’s time [in qualifying,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner. “It was his first time here at Suzuka, a really tricky, drivers circuit.”

Horner indicated that Albon was now favourite to stay with the team in 2020: “He’s certainly making a really good play for it. It’s his seat to lose in many respects and I think everything he’s done so far he’s done a super job.”

Even the team’s motorsports consultant Dr Helmut Marko gave a thumbs-up to the 23-year-old’s performance.

“Considering he was at Suzuka for the first time, he did a very good qualifying,” he told Osterreich newspaper. “He is getting better.”

But inevitably there was some criticism as well from Marko: “He has some speed to gain in the race, but he takes too long to get going.”

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