Red Bull adviser Dr Helmut Marko has aimed another sly dig at Sir Lewis Hamilton by saying that Lando Norris is the only driver that can compete with Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc at present.
Norris grabbed McLaren’s first podium of the season at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix after he capitalised on a crucial error by Leclerc late on, and it was a seismic result for the Woking-based team after their woeful start to the season in Bahrain.
The podium appearance in Italy was the sixth of his Formula 1 career, while Verstappen and Perez claimed Red Bull’s first one-two in over five years.
It is clear that, much like Hamilton and team-mate George Russell in Bahrain and Australia, the 22-year-old will have to exploit fortuitous moments that fall his way if he is to achieve more of this relative success.
Dr Marko, having in been charge of the driver programme at Red Bull for so long, has a keen eye for talent, and he sees plenty of it in Norris.
“The only talented driver I still see in this league is Lando Norris, but he doesn’t have the best machinery at the moment,” he said, quoted by Auto Motor und Sport.
The comments come after seven-time champion Hamilton suffered an immensely difficult weekend in Imola, finishing the race P13 after qualifying 14th, and he spent most of the afternoon staring at the back of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly.
The poor performance of the Brackley side’s car stems from the changes to the technical regulations, but 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg affirmed that his former team-mate has “a role to play” in the scoreless finish, given that Russell ended up in fourth.
Dr Marko could not resist a dig at Red Bull’s main adversary from last year, and joked that the 37-year-old “should have stopped” after his heart-breaking late defeat to Verstappen.
Former Formula 1 driver John Watson said that the comments were part of the game, but warned the Milton Keynes side that it is not an especially good look on them.
“To use a cricket analogy, they’re sledging him,” he told RacingNews365.com.
“All they’re doing is just adding more discomfort to Mercedes and primarily Lewis. It’s part of the game.
“It doesn’t need to be maybe as blatant, because sometimes it reflects worse on you than it does on the person that you’re doing it to, so it’s a balance of what you say.”
Johnny Herbert had a much firmer assessment of the remarks, calling it a “cheap shot” from the Austrian.
“[It is] typical Helmut Marko and Red Bull, to be honest,” he added.
“After everything that happened last year – what a battle there was between Max and Lewis, and of course Red Bull and Mercedes.
“It went down to the wire, the race at the end of the year was completely and utterly wrong, but the man who dominated that last part of the year was Lewis Hamilton.”
Mercedes are hoping to be able to introduce an upgrade that that will mitigate the effects of “porpoising,” with trackside engineer Andrew Shovlin divulging that the plentitude of issues that is the W13 will have to be sorted out “in steps” rather than with “one big moment.”