FEBRUARY 22, 2024

Marko plays down Red Bull's enormous early pace advantage

Even embattled team boss Christian Horner was all smiles in Bahrain on Wednesday as Red Bull's new and radical car for 2024 stunned every other Formula 1 rival on the opening day of pre-season testing.

Max Verstappen, Abu Dhabi GP 2023
© Red Bull

Maybe they didn't copy the latest model, smiled Dr Helmut Marko as the nearest challenger, McLaren's Lando Norris, failed to get even within a second of Max Verstappen's best laptime.

Frederic Vasseur denies Ferrari is among those who have 'copied' the now-defunct 2023 Red Bull, but he also admits the gap remains enormous.

We haven't started copying anyone, the Frenchman insisted. If you do, you're always one step behind.

Nonetheless, if Red Bull's 2024 pace is real, the rivals are now a step behind in terms of the basic concept, as innovative air intakes on either side of Verstappen's cockpit emerged on Wednesday.

We knew that the others would copy us, Red Bull's technical guru Adrian Newey said. If we had simply developed last year's car a bit more, it would not have been enough.

Top Red Bull consultant Marko, meanwhile, tried to play down Red Bull's early testing pace, insisting the gap to the rest of the field is not as big as it looks.

We were the only ones who took to the track with fresh medium tyres in the cool evening hours, he told Auto Motor und Sport. That explains the big jump we made in the afternoon.

Marko thinks the actual gap to the others, however, is three tenths. Mercedes' chief engineer Andrew Shovlin surmised: "There's almost nothing between Ferrari, McLaren, Aston Martin and us.

But one thing is clear - Red Bull are ahead.

George Russell said the new-concept Mercedes, having ironically scrapped the philosophy that Red Bull has now adopted, is nicer to drive.

But if it's slow, that won't help us, admitted team boss Toto Wolff. The base we have now is better than last year, but the Red Bull is fast.

Marko beamed: Radical change is always a risk. Look at Mercedes - they had problems, while our car worked from the first lap. That's why we're all smiling.