Max Verstappen has dismissed claims from George Russell that Red Bull is holding back from showing its maximum potential in the 2023 Formula 1 season.
Red Bull took its third consecutive win to open the campaign in Australia and has already built up a huge 58-point lead in the Constructors’ Championship.
But the chasing pack appeared closer in Melbourne, with Russell only 0.2s behind Verstappen on Saturday before Lewis Hamilton stayed within 10s of the Dutchman throughout the race before the late red flag interruption.
Verstappen, however, has staunchly dismissed such assertions.
“I mean, I think anyway, there’s nothing really they can do,” he told the BBC’s Chequered Flag podcast about the potential for rules to be introduced that hamper Red Bull.
“I mean, we just try to do the best we can with the development of the car, but it’s also about pace management, because we didn’t really know – I think no one really knew – how long that hard tyre would last.
“So it’s about just bringing it home because we had a bit of pace I think over the others, and there’s no need to try and gain half a second a lap and destroy your tyres to the end because you never know, a Safety Car can happen, red flags, like we had today.
“So yeah, it’s not necessary to risk all that.”
Red Bull boss Christian Horner also weighed in by stating the manner of an early one-stop race was responsible for Verstappen managing his pace.
Horner further used Sergio Perez’s charge from the back to fifth in the sister car as evidence that Red Bull wasn’t choosing to hold back to avoid a sudden rule change.
The long-serving team principal also took the opportunity to take a dig at Mercedes and its dominance of the sport at the start of the turbo-hybrid engine era.
Ex-Mercedes technical director Paddy Lowe previously underlined that the German marque opted to hide its significant engine advantage in 2014.
That’s very generous of him,” Horner remarked. “His team would know too well about those kinds of advantages.
“There’s always an element of managing that goes on in any race. Because it was a one-stop race, and a very early one-stop race, of course, there was an element of tyre management going on, and you could see how Checo (Perez) wasn’t hanging about.
“He wasn’t cruising around, or holding back seven-tenths a lap because he didn’t want to show it. The grid was certainly a little bit closer here.”
Russell previously highlighted that Red Bull possesses the potential to win every single of the 23 rounds set to take place in 2023.
Red Bull dominated the season-opening race in Bahrain before securing another 1-2 finish in Saudi Arabia, despite Verstappen starting down in 15th.
Perez’s early off in qualifying on Saturday at Albert Park marked an end to the reigning champion’s perfect opening to the year, with the Mexican now 15 points behind Verstappen.
Hamilton profited from Perez’s problematic qualifying to claim the runner-up spot and score Mercedes’ first podium of the season.
But, having led at the start, an engine failure for Russell forced the other Brit out of the race early on, leaving Mercedes behind Aston Martin in the standings.