Helmut Marko has given his assessment of the drivers at Red Bull’s rival teams – and thinks the mystique around Charles Leclerc has been “debunked”.
Certainly qualified to discuss the merits of the Red Bull and AlphaTauri racers in his guise as head of the driver development programme covering both of those teams, Marko has also run the rule over some of their opponents.
In particular, his comments regarding Ferrari further feed the growing theory that Carlos Sainz’s strong first season with the Scuderia has increased the pressure on his colleague Leclerc.
The Spaniard grew with the team as the 2021 campaign progressed and ended up outscoring the Monegasque by 5.5 points across the 22 races thanks to four podium finishes and no retirements.
But whatever he thinks about the line-ups at Ferrari and McLaren, Marko still sees Max Verstappen, the 2021 World Champion, and his predecessor Lewis Hamilton as being the class of the field by some distance.
“The declared goal is the World Championship title,” Marko told Auto Motor und Sport of his hopes for Red Bull in 2022. “[But] with such a big rule change you can never be sure.
“Mercedes and we have the potential, the people and the continuity. That again speaks for a duel at the highest level. Especially as with Hamilton and Verstappen, no other driver is coming along.
“The closest to them is [Lando] Norris. Leclerc was, so to speak, debunked by Sainz.”
Marko had previously said he hoped Verstappen would be done a favour by George Russell’s arrival at Mercedes, in the sense that the younger Briton could dilute the potency of Hamilton’s title challenge by taking points away from the seven-time former champion.
The 78-year-old Austrian also thinks the fact the Mercedes duo are compatriots is a factor. But he maintains there is something for ‘Mr Saturday’ to prove given his Sunday performances for Williams were not vastly superior to those of his former team-mate, Nicholas Latifi.
“Russell will certainly be a bigger challenge for Hamilton,” said Marko, clearly in the belief that the younger Briton will come in with greater hunger and ambition than his predecessor with the Silver Arrows, Valtteri Bottas.
“Just rhetorically and politically, because he’s also English.
“He is an incredibly fast driver in qualifying. In the race, however, the gap to Latifi was no longer so great. Russell has to prove himself first.”
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