Max Verstappen has detailed how his nightmare Australian Grand Prix 12 months ago provided the key turning point in Red Bull’s season.
While Verstappen and Red Bull comfortably collected both titles in 2022, the Dutch driver’s failure to finish in Melbourne marked his second retirement within the opening three races, leaving him a huge 46 points behind Charles Leclerc.
Aside from the Austrian outfit’s RB19 struggling with reliability, performance and an overweight car was also a concern for the eventual champions.
Prior to his retirement Verstappen had been unable to live with the pace of Ferrari’s F1-75 in the hands of Leclerc, who went on to achieve a grand slam.
Verstappen has revealed how that wretched weekend was significant in Red Bull reversing its fortunes.
“I think last year our car was very heavily overweight at this stage of the season so that didn’t help,” he defined ahead of this weekend’s running.
“I think last year here we had a big shift in balance between qualifying and the race so that caught us out in the race, and we were not reliable, so that of course is never nice in the beginning of the year.
“But we also knew that there was a lot of potential in that car too from the updates but especially from the weight side of the car.
“But last year was very frustrating here, being slow in the race, retiring from the race, but I think we understood quite quickly after the weekend what we did wrong with the set-up but also to work on our reliability, because I think from then onwards it was quite alright in terms of reliability and of course, we made big steps with the performance of the car.”
The Dutch driver would go on a rampant streak across the rest of the season, winning 14 out of the remaining 19 races to clinch a second successive title with four rounds to spare.
Despite winning at 21 different circuits throughout his F1 career, Verstappen has never won in Australia, registering a best finish of third in 2019.
Having pulled over to the side of the road midway through last year’s race, Verstappen also retired in 2015 while he span on his way to a disappointing sixth place in 2018.
The times he has reached the chequered flag untroubled Verstappen has never threatened victory, registering results of 10th, fifth and his aforementioned sole visit to the podium in ’19.
Verstappen insists that Red Bull’s tendency in the early years of the turbo-hybrid engine era to begin on the backfoot contributed to his average finishing record in Australia, while also pointing out how the track alterations made for the 2022 event onwards mean his previous form counts for very little.
“Yeah, of course it was a bit different back then, but yeah I think the last few years we’ve never really been that good in the beginning of the year, so I think if this race had been a different place on the calendar then probably we’d have had a lot better results here, but that’s not how it is,” he said.
“But for sure we do need a good result here.”
With Red Bull appearing in dominant shape for F1’s next visit to Melbourne, Verstappen is well-versed to end his Australian hoodoo.
The Milton-Keynes-based squad has enjoyed a clear performance advantage over the rest at the beginning of the 2023 season and scored two successive 1-2 finishes to open its title defence.
However, the reigning Drivers’ champion has warned that Red Bull must ensure the team executes a clean weekend to avoid the same reliability concerns that denied him the opportunity to contest pole position in Saudi Arabia.
“I think we have a good chance of course for a good result, but we do need to execute a good weekend,” he added.
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