Red Bull Motorsport Advisor Helmut Marko is expecting to see a “different” Max Verstappen at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.
Verstappen was suffering from the effects of an intestinal virus that forced him to miss the Thursday media day in Saudi Arabia.
Nevertheless, the Red Bull star seemed to be on course to dominate the weekend until a driveshaft failure during Q2 forced him to start 15th for Sunday’s race.
Marko, however, thinks that Verstappen, who finished second in Jeddah, was only at “80%” and believes the World Champion will be back to his best in Melbourne.
“He wasn’t 100% fit,” Marko told F1-Insider. “However, he is now doing everything he can to maximize performance next time. We will therefore see a different Verstappen in Australia.”
Having worked his way back through to second, Verstappen set about closing down the 5s gap that his team-mate Sergio Perez had built up following a Safety Car restart.
But further concerns with his RB19 in the closing stages forced him to back off and settle for coming home as the secondary Red Bull.
Despite repeatedly being issued a target lap time, Verstappen persisted in eventually being allowed to chase the fastest race lap, succeeding on his final attempt.
Marko branded the move “typical Max”, also denying that Perez was denied the opportunity to score the bonus point that would have handed the Mexican the Championship lead.
“That’s not true,” he said when quizzed on whether Perez was forced to abandon his own attempt at improving his fastest race lap.
“Perez also attacked his own best time, but he made a mistake.”
Verstappen’s accomplishment in pipping Perez to the additional point means the reigning two-time World Champion holds a slim one-point advantage in the standings.
Having seen his chances of a second successive win in Saudi Arabia derailed by a problem in qualifying, Verstappen has called on Red Bull to improve its reliability for future events.
The Dutchman goes into the Australian GP aiming to achieve victory at the Albert Park circuit for the first time on his seventh visit.
It represents one of only four tracks on the 2023 calendar that Verstappen hasn’t stood on the top spot of yet in his decorated F1 career.
Verstappen was set to comfortably trail home second behind Charles Leclerc in last year’s race until a fuel leak put him out of the race.
However, Verstappen has tasted an element of success Down Under previously: he registered a third-place finish on Honda’s debut powering the senior Red Bull outfit in 2019 to score the Japanese manufacturer’s first podium finish since July 2008.
Since then Verstappen has gone on to score 31 wins with engines that have been produced and maintained by Honda, including two title successes in 2021 and 2022.
With Red Bull seemingly retaining a dominant edge over the rest in the early stages of the season, Verstappen is the hot favourite going into this weekend but can expect to face stern competition from his team-mate, who is desperate to establish a more formidable challenge in 2023.
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