Max Verstappen’s 2022 season up until the Australian Grand Prix was looked to be something of a redemption arc.
Verstappen opened the season in Bahrain by qualifying second behind Charles Leclerc and spent most of the race holding that position. Despite making a few attempts to grab Leclerc’s lead, Verstappen looked set to finish Bahrain in second place–before an engine issue struck unexpectedly in the race’s final five laps, relegating him to a DNF.
When Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez suffered the same fate on the final lap in Bahrain, concerns spread far and wide that Red Bull’s newly branded engine program might be seriously flawed, even as the team insisted that the woes that eliminated their factory drivers were one time, freak occurrences.
That assertion certainly rang true in Jeddah, where Perez took a surprise pole position in qualifying, and where Verstappen bested Leclerc to the checkered flag to bounce back from the previous retirement to score the race victory. All seemed right in the Red Bull garage.
Australia manifested itself as the dictionary definition of deja vu for Verstappen.
Once again, the 2021 Champion qualified behind Leclerc, second on the grid.
Once again, Leclerc got away well at the start.
Once again, Verstappen’s attempts at the lead came up short.
And once again, Verstappen’s power unit ended his race prematurely.
Leclerc’s win looked all but certain when he emerged from his sole pitstop nearly six seconds ahead of Verstappen, though Verstappen’s pace was respectable even if it was insufficient.
Verstappen was managing a comfortable second place gap with Perez holding steady in third and the two drivers set to round up a double podium for Red Bull when on lap 39 Verstappen was shown coming to a stop at the exit road just past turn two.
Verstappen emerged from his car and restlessly motioned for track marshalls to bring a fire extinguisher as fumes wafted from the stricken Red Bull’s engine cover. The marshalls gave the car a thorough spray of the fire extinguisher on hand and moved it behind the barrier in a timely fashion. All that was necessary to clear the incident was a brief virtual safety car.
When asked how he felt these retirements could hinder his championship prospects, Verstappen didn’t mince words in his assessment of Red Bull’s situation.
“We’re already miles behind so I don’t even want to think about the championship fight at the moment. I think it’s more important to just finish races,” Verstappen said. “I knew I could not fight Charles so there was no point in even trying to put pressure on him.”
Unlike Bahrain, where all Red Bull-powered cars, except Yuki Tsunoda, experienced engine-related issues, Verstappen was the only casualty of poor reliability for Red Bull in Australia. With Yuki Tsunoda suffering power unit issues during warmups for Saudi Arabia, Red Bull has in fact experienced engine-related problems in all three races of the 2022 season.
This marks the second DNF in three races for Verstappen, dropping him to sixth place in the championship standings, 46 points behind leader Leclerc. Further, Leclerc’s championship lead now extends to 33 points over second-place George Russell.
This second DNF makes 2022 the worst opening three rounds of Verstappen’s career since his rookie season in 2015. Through the first three races of 2015, Verstappen retired in Australia, finished seventh in Malaysia, and 17th in China.
The schedule may offer Verstappen some hope as he is the defending winner of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, the next stop on the 2022 calendar to be held at Imola.
About the author
Alex joined Frontstretch in March of 2021 and currently serves as an Open-wheel Contributor with a focus on IndyCar and Formula 1. Alongside writing for Frontstretch he also pursues his passions in international affairs and teaching English as a second language.
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