If you’ve followed Formula One for the past 4-5 years then you’ve no doubt encountered the name Helmut Marko. If this isn’t ringing a bell then you may recall our own Tony Greene’s F1 Biography on the Austrian man behind the curtain. The enigmatic Marko has been looming in the garage of Red Bull for some time and represents the right hand of Dietrich Mateschitz, the head of the energy drink empire.
In this capacity, Marko has significant pull and visual acuity into the inner-workings of the racing team. He watches all the moves and mumbles made by team boss Christian Horner and his band of merry men and women. He is a direct line of communication to the Red Bull boardroom and is most likely the keeper of the sacred cheque book. He’s brooding, poised and can be brutal and outspoken when need be. He is a very powerful figure in Formula One and few doubt his presence in the paddock as the eyes of a billionaire’s budget.
The oppressive notion of a man watching over the shoulder of the Red Bull Racing team may be untenable for some but it has seemed to work giving Red Bull three championships on the trot. It’s worked so much that I may argue that Mercedes has now modeled their operation after red Bull’s in a flattering moment of otherwise oddness.
Mercedes were faced with a tenuous position last summer when their name was not included int he ripe, beneficial arrangement the new Concorde Agreement afforded Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren. Mercedes was not impressed with the lack of consideration for a storied team with a history of F1 accomplishments. Even Mercedes motor sport boss Norbert Haug seemed ineffectual in getting F1 owenrs CVC and their iron fist, Bernie Ecclestone, to budge on the matter. The issue reached boiling points that saw muted threats of a departure from the series by Mercedes.
In an effort to repair this festering wound, the board of Mercedes chose to bring in a hired gun…a hold-out weapon to level the playing field. It came in the form of an elder statesman and F1 champion Niki Lauda. Never short for crass commentary, Lauda was to seize the reigns and save the day…to those ends, he may just pulled it off in a fashion that only the absent Flavio Briatore could do.
Mercedes has made Lauda the managing director of the F1 team and this is a role at the board level. In short, he’s the eyes and ears of the Mercedes board inside the team. Sound familiar? If Helmut Marko can make this work, why not Mercedes?
Lauda promptly reached out to his friend Ecclestone and got Mercedes a much better deal in the Concorde Agreement. The deal was good enough to see Mercedes stay in the series and commit to a long-term presence. The Austrian then set about finding a replacement for Michael Schumacher. Lauda has been terse in his assessment of the 7-time champion and his departure was not going to prompt a tissue-to-eye moment. What Lauda found was one of the grid’s best drivers in Lewis Hamilton. Lauda managed to capitalize on a disenchanted Hamilton and worked to expose the cracks that the MacLaren machine had failed to heal.
Hamilton’s departure for Mercedes swept Schumacher aside like yesterday’s news and the team now has one of the most dynamic drivers int he sport behind the wheel of a car designed by one of the most dynamic team bosses in the business. The question is, can they deliver?
Lauda’s presence at Mercedes has to be respected for what he has achieved thus far. While the team is top-heavy with Norbert Haug and Nick Fry, one has to wonder just what role these two will play with Lauda lurking in the garage. There is little question the team stopped developing full tilt for 2012 mid-season and focused mainly on their 2013 efforts. Geoff Willis, Aldo Costa and Bob Bell represent serious heavyweights in the world of Formula One and they’ve been working diligently ont eh 2013 chassis.
Many F1 fans view Lauda as the doddering old champ known as the rent-a-quote of F1 journalists for the past decade. think again, Lauda is shrewd and has exacted a bigger impact on Mercedes than anyone else since his inclusion as the Helmut Marko of the Silver Arrows. As a cautionary tale, Lauda was reportedly asking questions about when Adrian Newey’s contract expired at Red Bull. Don’t think it’s possible? No one imagined Hamilton leaving either. Fair warning Helmut, the new Marko is on the move.