'Red Bull has softened up' says Webber

Mark Webber and Helmut Marko, Red Bull Racing
© XPB 

Former Formula 1 driver Mark Webber has suggested that Red Bull has "softened up' its approach to its junior driver development programme.

Motorsport consultant Dr Helmut Marko is well known for his ruthless 'hothousing' approach to seeking future F1 talent. The programme has certainly had some notable successes, including grooming Sebastian Vettel to become world champion.

But Webber says that Red Bull's decision to reach out to Brendon Hartley in 2017 is a sign that things are changing.

Hartley was cut from the programme in 2010 and went on to forge a career in sportscar endurance racing. He was part of Porsche's winning team in last year's Le Mans 24 Hours.

That led Dr Marko to get in touch with the 28-year-old Kiwi about joining Toro Rosso for the United States and Mexico races. That extended to Brazil and Abu Dhabi, and in turn led to a full-season offer for 2018.

"I think Red Bull softened a little bit," Webber told Motorsport.com. "It's not as maybe as intense as it was in the former years [or] maybe this opportunity would not have come about."

Webber commended Marko's more flexible approach to talent hunting.

"You have to take your hat off to Helmut. He has looked at it, he's given him a second chance," he commented. "It is a different environment. It's much calmer – which is I see only an upside."

Hartley's rise came at the expense of Daniil Kyvat, who might not agree about a kinder, gentler Red Bull programme. The Russian driver entered Formula 1 after winning the Formula Renault Alps title in 2012 and the GP3 championship in 2013 as a Red Bull junior.

After a year at Toro Rosso he was promoted to the senior Red Bull Racing team in 2015. But things unravelled for Kvyat in 2016, and he found himself back at Toro Rosso. He was finally axed altogether following last year's US Grand Prix.

"There's been so many drivers who were unbelievable in the junior categories," noted Webber. "But [then they] didn't really fulfil their promise in Formula 1.

"I think it's a bit like a Michelin star restaurant [in F1]. As a chef you have to be an expert in many different dishes," he suggested. "In the junior categories you don't. You have to be an expert in one or two dishes."

"You don't really have this so much in junior categories. If you're fast, you can still do the results. But later on you need to have mind management and the composure."

"But Formula 1 is like a very, very tough test for the driver envelope of operation - and your ability to work with people."

Kvyat has now been picked up by Ferrari as a development driver. It leaves the door open for the 23-year-old to make a racing comeback in 2019.

"He will bring a valuable experience to Ferrari, since he was still an active driver last season," said Toni Vilander, consultant for the Finnish TV channel C More.

"Maybe his manager thought it was the right thing for him in the medium term, even if the simulator does not improve a driver's skills," Vilander added.

"In fact, this year 2018 will be difficult for Daniil. He doesn't want to remain a test driver, but maybe he could return to Sauber or Haas - provided he is supported by sponsors."

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