Today, Red Bull is viewed as the strongest team on the Formula 1 grid and it has come a long way from its origins.
Christian Klien, along with David Coulthard, were the first drivers to race for the Milton Keynes-based squad when it joined the grid in 2005.
Whereas Coulthard remained employed by the Milton Keynes-based team for several years, Klien was shown the door fairly quickly: after a season and a half, his time with the energy drink manufacturer was over.
Despite this, Klien has always remained loyal to the Red Bull brand, in part because of the opportunities offered to him by compatriots Dietrich Mateschitz and Helmut Marko. RacingNews365 spoke with the Austrian in an exclusive interview, in which we look back at 2023 as well as looking ahead to 2024.
"Incredible," is the word that Klien uses to answer the question 'What did you think of the performance of Red Bull and Max Verstappen in 2023?'. The 40-year-old highlighted that that Verstappen not only excelled on race day but also across one lap.
“Max was tremendously good and consistent. But it wasn't all a piece of cake for him. Look at qualifying in Monaco, where he certainly didn't have the fastest car.
“During the second half of the season, the other teams were closer to him, especially in qualifying. He showed every time that he was on top of it and made the difference.”
Klien not only praised Verstappen for his performance but also his former employer for delivering a fantastic car: “Red Bull built an incredible car, it was an incredible job this year. The combination was unbeatable.”
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While Verstappen excelled out front, team-mate Sergio Perez struggled behind the wheel of the RB19.
“Every high level of sport is a mental game as well,” Klien highlighted. “I would say Max is definitely one with the car and with the team. It feels like pressure is not getting into his head at all.
“That was the difference to Checo. He had a very good start to the season and maybe he had in his mind, ‘OK, maybe this year I can beat Max or at least on the same level’.
“But I think Miami was already the turning point where he realised, ‘OK the guy on the other side of the garage is really unbeatable’.
“I think mentally that broke him a little bit. It took him a really, really long time, maybe until the last couple of races where he got back [on track]. He's not a bad driver and you cannot unlearn how to drive a car fast. But in the end, it’s a mental game.”
As Perez looks to improve his form for next year's campaign, Klien has encouraged the Mexican driver to enter the season with a different mindset.
“I think he realised now that he’s at the end of his career. He’s in the best team, in the best car. He realises ‘I have a driver next to me that I probably cannot beat’.
“[But he can] enjoy it, go for podiums and go for race wins. I think he was already thinking this way during the last races of 2023.”
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Perez's difficult season has placed doubt over his future at the Red Bull team beyond his current contract, which expires at the end of next year's campaign.
Daniel Ricciardo's return to the grid this year has sparked suggestions that the Australian could return to the Red Bull in 2025 as a replacement for the Mexican.
“I think it all depends on how Ricciardo is performing,” Klien said. “I think it all looks good for him. I feel he’s in a comfortable environment with the Red Bull family again. Obviously [there was] not enough races [in 2023], especially with the broken hand he had.
“Red Bull Racing will look closely at his performance next year and I would say he would be the one stepping up. If he's back like in the old days - then I would say it would be Ricciardo.”
Ricciardo's departure from the sister would leave another seat to be filled but Klien believes there is a suitable candidate ready to jump in.
“Then for AlphaTauri, they have in Liam Lawson a driver who can step in for Ricciardo. He showed that with the incredible job in the races he did this year.”
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