Former Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo has suggested that Dr Helmut Marko is not longer quite the same intimidating presence he was once and that the 77-year-old has softened somewhat in recent years.
Marko is head of the Red Bull junior driver programme, which brought Ricciardo into Formula 1 with Toro Rosso in 2011 and oversaw his promotion to the senior team in 2014.
During his time in charge Marko has earned a fearsome reputation as someone hard to please, and willing to cull anyone from the programme he feels isn't meeting the grade. That's included the likes of Jean-Eric Vergne, Sebastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley.
But Ricciardo - who left the Red Bull fold in 2019 for a two-year stint at Renault, and is now moving to McLaren for the new season - reckons that these days Marko is somewhat more approachable and less scary.
“Helmut has softened a bit in recent years,” the Australian told Motorsport-Total.com this week. “Maybe it’s just maturity now, but I also sense that he’s become a little nicer."
That's not to say that Marko is any less forthright in his honest and often brutal feedback to young drivers.
“You get 100 percent transparency and honesty: if you didn’t do well, he tells you," Ricciardo agreed. “You just have to be willing to take some constructive criticism sometimes, and not take everything personally."
“He only says these things to get the best out of you, and he says it because he cares and believes in you," Ricciardo insisted. "If he’s willing to give you that criticism, then in a way it should be seen as a compliment.”
Ricciardo is well known for having a little wager with his bosses, and last year bet Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul that he would finish on the podium - and if he did then the team principal would have to have a tattoo of the Aussie's choosing.
He said that he would have liked to have a similar bet of some kind with Marko but that the opportunity hadn't arisen.
“On what I would have thought of, I would have won,” Ricciardo insisted. "The year before he won a few euros from me, so from that he has the upper hand.
“Actually I don’t care that much. But if he offers a good bet for the coming season, I’ll join in. It’s a good way to maintain our relationship.”
Asked if he had any advice for Sergio Perez, who joins Red Bull in place of Alex Albon in 2021, Ricciardo offered a light-hearted suggestion to see whether Marko really had softened up.
"Just give him a hug. Let’s see how he handles it,” he suggested, with his usual huge, mischievous grin.