Austrian racing driver Christian Klien had immense support from Red Bull as he found his way into Formula 1 in 2004 with the Jaguar team.
With Jaguar evolving into Red Bull Racing for 2005, Klien was part of the team's fledgling years in the sport, competing for them until 2006.
RacingNews365 spoke exclusively with Klien about his first years at Red Bull, and his experiences with the notorious driver advisor Helmut Marko.
"I was already supported a little bit by Red Bull in the karts, but with small amounts [financially]. When I went to the single seaters, the budget went up and I could choose the category and the team myself. Then it went fast, because I was doing well and pretty soon I was in Formula 1. I won the Marlboro Masters at Zandvoort and that opened the door towards a Formula One test."
"I got offers from Jordan and Jaguar, after which I chose the latter team. It all went very quickly, with the help of Marko and Red Bull."
Coincidence or not?
At the end of 2004, Ford put the Jaguar team on sale and it was Dietrich Mateschitz who decided to snap up the team. This effectively guaranteed Klien at least an opportunity beyond 2004 and, as an Austrian and Red Bull-backed driver, he was allowed to keep his seat for 2005. He and the experienced David Coulthard became the first two Formula One drivers for Red Bull.
When asked if the timing of the Red Bull takeover was fortunate for him, the Austrian didn't believe that his Jaguar placement wasn't part of a guaranteed takeover plan.
"In 2005 Red Bull took over the team, but there was no luck for me. When I went to Jaguar, there were no Red Bull plans to take over that team yet," commented Klien.
"Even during the last race of 2004, in Brazil, it was not yet clear what was going to happen to the team. A month later, Red Bull bought the team. I was allowed to stay and Coulthard came from McLaren as an experienced driver. That was very good for the team, because he took knowledge from a top team. That's how it all started."
Helmut's unusual rotation plan
For the 2005 season, Helmut Marko was about to have his say on the driver line-up and came up with a unique plan. In addition to Coulthard and Klien, he actually wanted to see Formula 3000 champion and Red Bull junior Vitantonio Liuzzi in the RB1. Klien suddenly had to share his cockpit with his new Italian teammate.
"That was Helmut's idea!" the former F1 driver laughs. "Liuzzi had won the Formula 3000 title the year before. Then Helmut came up with the idea that we would share the cockpit. I drove the first four races, Liuzzi the next four races. They wanted to continue that way for the rest of the season, each taking turns in four races."
"Fortunately, after the four races for 'Tonio', Marko put an end to that arrangement. However, it was not only those races that we had to share the car. We also had to share test time during the pre-season test days, which meant that we both only got half the test time compared to Coulthard!"
"That made it very difficult for us to share the car.
"That made it very, very difficult for us, but we had to perform, because otherwise you're out of the race quickly at Red Bull. Fortunately, they quickly realised it wasn't the best idea and I was then allowed to finish the season. Leading up to 2006, they bought Toro Rosso. I got the Red Bull seat, Tonio was allowed to drive for Toro Rosso." (photo above article).
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Marko an old, grumpy man?
"That was an idea only Marko could have come up with!", Klien laughs when we ask him about the Red Bull advisor. At the time, Klien did find it difficult to deal with Marko, but today he reflects on Marko's methods with appreciation.
"Helmut was a tough character, really a tough character. But he was also straightforward. You know exactly where you stand. That may be a bit of an Austrian mentality, because we are quite direct."
"But because of that you knew what to expect, with Helmut it was always clear. You had to perform and you didn't get much time to do that, so that's probably also why Red Bull consumed a lot of juniors. But if you look at what drivers ended up coming out of that, it probably wasn't the wrong approach."
Today, many Red Bull juniors do not make it and do not manage to reach Formula One. Not everyone will thank Helmut for that, but Klien knows that it is something that is simply part of the cut-throat nature of Formula 1.
"When you're young, you don't realise it's a good approach. If you work with Helmut when you're 15, or even when you're 20, you're not quite mature. That can make his decisions very hard and we drivers don't understand it all."
"In the end, that's how it works in Formula 1. Only the 20 best drivers can drive here and motorsport in general is just a hard sport. If you want to get to the top, then it's tough, but you learn a lot through it, you gain a lot of life experience."
"In the end, that's how it works."
In conclusion, Klien emphasises that Marko is by no means a grumpy, old man. On the contrary. While he is known as someone who is straightforward and very direct, as he gets older, the hardened taskmaster is slowly but surely becoming a bit "softer".
"Helmut also has a soft side and he also has a funny side. I didn't really see that side before, but when I walk around the F1 paddock today, that funny side often comes up. He is slowly becoming a bit 'softer' as well."