It was a team effort that won Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel their third consecutive constructors’ and drivers’ Formula One titles. Advising Vettel, as he has done over a decade, was Dr Helmut Marko. Here he reveals what makes Seb so special, and what’s next for F1.
Every story of great triumph has many components, and the success of Red Bull Racing is no exception. A vital and lesser-known line of force in the world champion team is that of Sebastian and The Doctor. Red Bull Racing Motorsport Director Dr Helmut Marko, 69, a school friend of 1970 Formula One world champ Jochen Rindt, came through the ranks in the all-guns-blazing era of F1, to drive for the BRM team.
Losing the sight in his left eye, during a Grand Prix in 1972, put paid to Marko’s Formula One promising driving career. That led him to work behind the scenes in the sport he knows and loves. Among his diverse talents (he also heads Red Bull Racing’s young driver programme, through which he met Sebastian Vettel about 10 years ago) is an ability to assess racing holistically, laying bare all possible connections to improve tactics and strategy. What a great thing to talk about.
The Red Bulletin: Why are you known as The Doctor?
Helmut Marko: During my racing career, I completed a doctorate in law. That was somewhat unusual, and I think the media liked saying there was a Doctor Marko on the grid. There were not that many doctors among the Le Mans and Formula One drivers. The name stuck, as a sort of label or first-name substitute. Everyone around here knows ‘The Doctor’, and they are not referring to medical care.
You have the reputation for understanding art and creativity, as well as the deeper secrets of motor racing, but you are regarded as very cool and aloof. Does that bother you?
You’ll never make it in Formula One if you are only addicted to beauty.
Few would argue with the fact that you are a mentor in the racing life of Sebastian Vettel, for about 10 years now. You met when he was a boy with braces. How did he get the warmth and security that a young person needs in his development?
He was certainly well looked after by his parents. Young people with a penchant for love and security stay as long as they can in what you would hope is their protected zone. Others are inclined to strike out early and make their own way. But you don’t need all that much TLC.
It is enough to recognise their strengths. Creating an artificial atmosphere of softness and cosiness just doesn’t fit in the world of Formula One.
When was the first time Vettel talked to you on a more informal basis?
No idea, really. It just happens over time without any great fuss.
How did your relationship develop into what is obviously a stable partnership?
First and foremost, we have a business partnership at a very clear, open and honest level. If he has problems, he comes directly to me – and vice versa if I have concerns. This works in a very professional manner. And, of course, you get a lot closer personally, no question.
Do you enjoy having a good chat?
Sure, but I don’t broadcast that fact. It is characteristically Sebastian to hold ‘Vettel the race driver’ up to the public, and he wants to keep his personal life private. Quite rightly so, too. But it also has to do with the fact that he is so incredibly focused on his job, so he needs the rest and the time off. He has to withdraw into himself so that he can then call upon the thing that no other driver has, in qualifying or during a race. I’m very well aware of the way Sebastian prepares, so that gives him a great deal of personal freedom to do what it takes to achieve the best performance.
Read the full story in January's issue of The Red Bulletin.