As an exhausted Max Verstappen sat on the ground after the Singapore Grand Prix, Christian Horner acknowledged the “big wound” Red Bull had inflicted on their driver in qualifying.
Verstappen lined up a disappointing P8 on the Marina Bay grid, the reigning World Champion told to box as he neared the end of his final hot lap after Red Bull realised he was short on fuel.
Raging at the team – or as Horner put it when he said Verstappen “completely blew a valve” – Verstappen’s first shot at securing this year’s Drivers’ title began on the back foot.
He did not help his cause as he “dropped the clutch” at the start, bogged down off the line and fell all the way back to P12.
Working his way up to sixth in the middle of a McLaren sandwich, a Safety Car for Yuki Tsunoda’s crashed AlphaTauri gave Verstappen the perfect opportunity to attack Lando Norris for fifth.
But as he hit the brakes for the corner, his RB18 bottomed out and he found himself heading down an escape road and in need of new tyres.
That stop dropped him to the very back of the field, Verstappen in a late-race battle with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel for seventh. He won that at least.
“It’s been a tough weekend for him,” Horner told reporters.
“He was starting out of position and obviously he was pushing hard, he was very patient throughout the race.
“He got an opportunity at the restart [on Norris] but because the [tyre] pressures were so low he bottomed out, picked up a massive flat spot, then had to pit and again came from a massive distance behind.
“Obviously those last couple of laps, a lot of people were watching the action at the front but the action going on between Lewis, Sebastian and Max was phenomenal.
“Yesterday was the big wound for today (the race).
“It was obviously frustrating but he raced his heart out, he came through the field twice and those points are vital for both him and the Constructors’.
“He gave it everything. Unfortunately, it wasn’t his weekend.”
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 2, 2022
Sunday’s race was the first time since Austria that Verstappen had dropped points to his rivals, although it did little to damage his overall title hopes.
He can wrap up his second successive World Championship at Suzuka if he outscores Charles Leclerc by eight points and Sergio Perez by six.
That means a win with the fastest-lap point would do it no matter where the other two finish.
Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko admits Sunday’s result was not the birthday present the 25-year-old had wanted.
“A really slow start by Max, who was in the wrong mode. As a result, the car almost came to a standstill,” he told Sky Germany. “It can happen, but the whole weekend wasn’t really good for Max.
“In any case, it wasn’t the birthday present.”