Dr Helmut Marko has credited the influential upgrade Red Bull brought to the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix to the team’s aerodynamic specialist Enrico Balbo.
Red Bull arrived at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari with upgrades to the car that they hoped would take 5kg from their car, and move them to within an estimated 10kg of the 798kg limit imposed on the cars due to the new technical regulations.
Red Bull and Ferrari looked relatively even throughout most of the weekend, but Verstappen set a scintillating lap in wet conditions to claim pole for the sprint race, which he won by hunting down Charles Leclerc after losing out to the Monegasque off the start.
The 24-year-old dominated the race on Sunday, leading home the team’s first one-two since the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix as Sergio Perez came home second.
Ferrari’s frustration was compounded by Carlos Sainz being wiped out off the start by Daniel Ricciardo, before Leclerc span into the barrier late on while chasing down the fastest lap of the race, turning a prospective P3 into a desolating P6.
Dr Marko observes that the 24-year-old was fortunate to escape the incident without incurring more damage than he did.
“[The nerves] were already there on Friday in practice when he spun – but lucky, like Hamilton, unbelievable,” he said, as per Motorsport.com.
“He hits the ground and is able to continue but that’s alright.”
After three mechanical failures between their two drivers in the opening three races of the year, Red Bull went to Bologna knowing they needed a strong performance to keep themselves in the conversation with Ferrari as we begin to dive into the European season.
Dr Marko never doubted his team’s ability to stay in the fight and capture their fifth Constructors’ Championship this season, but he is aware that Ferrari will have talismanic developments of their own to introduce.
“It was clear to us it [the title] was still open, but it’s very close,” he added.
“Ferrari are very strong and we must therefore continue to work at full speed.
“But we now have, above all, two very strong drivers. Perez is getting stronger, so from that point of view we are slightly optimistic about the future.”
The Austrian made sure to give a special mention to Balbo, who masterminded the augmentation of the RB18’s performance.
“The decisive factor was we had the courage to install our upgrade despite only one free practice session,” he explained.
“Everything worked, which is why our aerodynamics specialist (Enrico Balbo) is on the podium.”
Due to the fluctuating weather conditions throughout the three days in Imola, Verstappen concedes that he does not quite know how enhancing the changes to car were, and his main takeaway from last weekend is that the longevity of the car and the engine showed no signs of letting him or Perez down.
“I think it’s difficult to say because we had changeable conditions all weekend,” he stated.
“It’s always difficult to say how much the upgrades will bring, but I think they worked well.
“We had things under control a little better than in Australia. I’m just satisfied with how we performed all weekend. The fact we had everything under control is sometimes more important than the upgrades.”
Red Bull have closed the gap to Ferrari to 11 points in the Constructors’ Championship, while Verstappen now finds himself 27 points behind leader Leclerc.