World champion Max Verstappen’s second retirement in three races has left Red Bull on the back foot in the Formula One championship – and team principal Christian Horner fuming at the growing gap with Ferrari.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc won the Australian Grand Prix at a canter, crossing more than 20 seconds ahead of Red Bull’s runner-up Sergio Perez, while Verstappen’s car ground to a halt with nearly 20 laps to race.
Red Bull have now racked up three retirements in the first three races, with both Verstappen and Perez failing to finish the season-opener in Bahrain.
Ferrari are 39 points clear of second-placed Mercedes in the constructors championship, with Red Bull a further 10 points adrift.
“Desperately frustrating. I think as Max said, we didn’t have the pace to race Charles today, they were in a league of their own,” said Horner.
“But frustrating not to be bagging those points.
“We can’t accept DNFs (did not finish) but we need to understand what the issue is and address it.”
Red Bull blamed a fuel system problem for the retirements in Bahrain, and Horner suspected Verstappen’s failure in Melbourne might also be fuel-related.
More concerning was the car’s performance gap versus Ferrari, which has taken Red Bull by surprise.
“I’d rather fix a fast car than try and make a reliable, slow one fast. We need to get on top of it,” said Horner.
“You could see the front tyres open up quite quickly in the race and that’s usually the sign that you haven’t got your balance totally tuned in.”
With no points booked for a second race this season, Verstappen has fallen to sixth in the drivers’ championship, 46 points behind Leclerc.
Verstappen complained about his car’s performance all week, and said he knew there was a problem brewing.
“We are already miles behind so I don’t even want to think about the championship fight at the moment,” said the Dutchman.
“I think it’s more important to finish races. Of course today was in general just a bad day again.
“But we didn’t even finish the race so it’s pretty frustrating and unacceptable.”
Verstappen’s retirement paved the way for Perez’s runner-up finish, though the Mexican had to fight his way past third-placed Mercedes driver George Russell and the Briton’s team mate Lewis Hamilton to secure his 16th podium.
“(Ferrari) were on another level,” said Perez.
“I think we were too poor with our balance … We seem to be a bit harder on the tyres.”