Red Bull Racing advisor Helmut Marko reckons Pierre Gasly will be up to speed to Daniel Ricciardo’s level by mid-2019 Formula 1 season.

Ricciardo’s decision to switch to Renault from the 2019 season while Carlos Sainz moving on to McLaren left a huge hole in Red Bull as it lost two of its finest drivers at one go. It paved the way for Gasly to move into the senior team with only one season in Toro Rosso.

The Frenchman hasn’t had the smoothest journey into F1. He won the GP2 Series title in 2016 but was sent to Super Formula in 2017 by Marko as he felt Gasly needed more preparation. He eventually made his debut in 2017 at the expense of Daniil Kvyat.

Had Ricciardo stayed back in the team alongside Max Verstappen, it was certain Gasly would do another season in Toro Rosso. But with both Ricciardo and Sainz moving out, it helped Gasly to a faster promotion.

Unlike Kvyat and also Verstappen, Red Bull took their time to reveal Gasly for 2019. The talent for sure is there for Gasly, however, Marko admits he needs to step it up against Verstappen especially in his race routine

The Austrian though expects the Frenchman to match Ricciardo by mid-season in 2019. “Of course, Pierre still lacks a bit of routine [as he is only in his second year],” said Marko to Servus TV. “But he will not be far from Max’s pure speed in qualifying.

“That’s one of his strengths. He has to learn the rest. We expect him to adequately replace Ricciardo by the middle of the season. At Toro Rosso we now have to fill up the cockpit of Gasly. We want to decide that until Monza.”

The Frenchman has had some good results this year but for various reasons, the consistency is not there yet. His move now leaves Toro Rosso with a seat to be filled if they retain Brendon Hartley for another year.

Their ideal replacement Dan Ticktum is not ready especially with the superlicense points and so they are on the lookout to fill the seat – it could land to any of the former Toro Rosso F1 drivers and or any junior level drivers.

Meanwhile, Marko was surprised with Ricciardo’s decision to switch to Renault of all the teams considering the French manufacturer’s lack of delivering on power unit side. The Austrian said the Australian was to sign with Red Bull but made a u-turn in the end.

“I cannot understand the change,” he said. “That was a very strange story. The negotiations were difficult. On Wednesday before the Austrian GP, I sat together with him for two hours and we agreed.

“During the grand prix weekend, there was some improvements [made] for him. In Hungary, he said to both me and Mr Mateschitz that everything fits [and] he signs on Tuesday at the test. He did not do that.

“On Thursday afternoon I got a call. He was so funny in the voice. I told him: Come to the point! We are adults. Then he said: I’m going to Renault. I can only assume that he does not believe in the Honda project and that Renault offered him a very high amount.

“But I think with Shoeys it will be hard for him in the near future. He was a total of ten years with Red Bull at the junior time. He probably needed a change of scene. I can understand if he thinks the grass is greener at the neighbor.

“On the other hand, it is a pity too. He was certainly one of the strongest drivers in the race. His overtaking maneuvers were just great. The opponents have sometimes not even noticed that they are overtaken. In qualifying, he has not come along with Max recently.”

Marko also stressed that the partnership with Honda will be beneficial as Red Bull will be the ‘No. 1’ team for the Japanese manufacturer unlike with Renault where the factory outfit was the priority than the customer.

He feels the relationship with Honda will not be strained as McLaren since Red Bull will give them the liberty to produce an engine and give it to them as they will fit it in their chassis unlike McLaren who wanted an engine built to their chassis.

“Renault has not got the current engine package under control,” he said. “They are of the performance not at the level of Mercedes or Ferrari. And it also hangs on the reliability. Unlike Ricciardo, we have lost faith in Renault.

“With Honda, we have a partner who is fully committed, has the human and technical resources, and sees us as the #1 team. At Renault, we were just a paying customer. We have been treated fairly, but of course, the own team always had priority.

“The promise of Renault that you would be competitive, have never occurred. That’s why we took pleasure in the alternative that was offered to us. I conducted the initial talks [with Honda] and then went to the boss, Dietrich Mateschitz. He was overjoyed.

“Then we started with Toro Rosso in the first year, so you can see how they work and how the cooperation develops. Everything worked perfectly. We will spend a lot more effort next year. They have a development center in Sakura that nobody else can match.”

“We have a different approach with Honda than McLaren. They more or less dictated to Honda how the engine should look like and where it must be placed. We simply said that they should build the best engine available and we try somehow to accommodate it in the chassis.

“We discuss everything together. The Japanese have realized that they made mistakes. There was a change of staff and they got advice from experts. This year’s form of Toro Rosso clearly shows that things are going up. I’m sure we’ll be ahead of Renault next year.”

Among others, Marko repeated Christian Horner’s words on Fernando Alonso that he doesn’t fit into the Red Bull’s structure even though he is one of the best out there. On Niki Lauda, Marko hopes the former champion gets well soon.