Dr Helmut Marko's modest job title - consultant to Red Bull racing activities - belies that fact that he was one of the driving forces behind the company's bold move to acquire not one, but two Formula One teams. In an exclusive interview, he admits that progress this year has failed to match expectations, but insists that 2007 will bring with it a major leap forward…
Q: Red Bull spent years as a Formula One sponsor, then suddenly in the space of 12 months the company acquired two teams. How did this come about?
Helmut Marko: Well, Red Bull was with Sauber for many years. In fact it was majority stake holder in the team, without becoming active operationally. In that time it became clear for (Red Bull owner) Mr Mateschitz that if he wants to get the Red Bull message across, he has to make it on his own. He was just waiting for the perfect opportunity. It came when Ford decided to retreat from Formula One and put an acceptable price tag on its Jaguar team. The same situation occurred with Minardi. Two perfect moves at the perfect time, as now, willing would-be team owners are lining up to get an entry.
Q: The original intention was to build up an all-American racing team.What happened to that plan?
HM: The idea of an all-American team was extraordinary. Unfortunately,it faltered due to the poor economic conditions of the American car manufacturers. It would have been a perfect platform for Red Bull's North American ambitions. It would have meant having American drivers - that we could have easily delivered as, aside from Scott Speed, we have two other youngsters who I am sure will make it into Formula One - but the chassis and the organizational structure would have been a problem and the engine was missing. Now that we own two teams, the plan is dead.
Q: Rebuilding two struggling teams - those formerly known as Jaguar and Minardi - demands strategic vision and a rigid plan. Having the biggest motorhome, hiring the top hands in the paddock and being backed by perfect marketing machinery does not guarantee success. What does the trick?
HM: The new regulations that will be effective in 2008 and that will break the almighty influence of financial power. The new regulations also mean for us that we can serve our two teams with one development division.
So we will have cost reductions on the construction side, but double the data. This should really make us jump to the top.
Q: As one of the founding fathers of Red Bull's Formula One ambitions,are you satisfied with the performance so far?
HM: We are behind schedule. Red Bull Racing had to structure itself, and since the beginning of the year had to cover some of Toro Rosso's needs. But we've been seeing big progress for some weeks now and in 2007 we should be on track. I am not satisfied at the moment in the way we react to problems,and in structure and quality control we see a deficit, but we are improving.And even with some of the top hands in the paddock it takes time to build up a functional force.
Q: Are you satisfied with your driver line-up? There are rumours in the paddock that one of the two teams could be looking for a 'star driver' for 2007...
HM: If you up-grade the team, you also have to up-grade the drivers' side. We would like to recruit from our Red Bull junior programme that has
been running now for four years. The fact is that at the moment, of our six drivers, four are offspring of this programme, but should we be unsatisfied then we will have to look what is available on the free market.
Q: In a recent interview Mr Mateschitz said that if carmakers Volkswagen were to turn to Formula One racing, then they and Red Bull would be the perfect fit. He surely wouldn't have said that without an open line of
communication with Volkswagen…
HM: There is a long friendship between Dietrich Mateschitz and Bernd Pischetsrieder, VW's CEO, and Red Bull has teamed up with VW in their Touareg (Rally Raid) activities and are partners in DTM (Germany's touring car series). So it's natural that they talk about F1. But the reality is
that Red Bull is the perfect bride for any manufacturer, as it is a team that has no alcohol or tobacco sponsors, no debts and a sound future. So we will see who will take the bride home…