More gear shift concerns for Max Verstappen on an stop-start Friday in Melbourne

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen puts in the laps in the RB19. Melbourne March 2023

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen puts in the laps in the RB19. Melbourne March 2023

Despite being comfortably quickest in FP1, the more representative of Friday’s two practices in Melbourne, Max Verstappen didn’t sound too enthusiastic about his performance.

Putting in the laps at a cloudy Albert Park circuit for the opening practice hour of the Australian Grand Prix weekend, Verstappen laid down a 1:18.790 on the soft Pirellis to beat Lewis Hamilton by 0.433s. But his session wasn’t without problems.

Verstappen was one of those caught out in the GPS failure drama, the Dutchman having an all too close encounter with Carlos Sainz, while he also complained about his RB19 as he appeared to be suffering from gear shift issue again.

Gear shifts were a problem for the driver at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix where he complained about that late in the race having already suffered a driveshaft failure during qualifying. The problem seemed to be back on Friday.

“Shifts are terrible, up and down shifts,” he told the team.

He later said: “We are dragging the rear brakes too much, that’s the problem.”

In blustery conditions the reigning World Champion, who leads this year’s Drivers’ standings by a single point ahead of his team-mate Sergio Perez, had a few offs.

There were a few more later in the day during second practice when the rain came down, the drivers only getting in 20 minutes of dry running with Verstappen finishing with the third fastest time.

He admits there’s work to be done.

“I mean, to be honest, it was not even so much about the car, it was just very low grip out there,” he told the official F1 website. “The tarmac seems to be really slippery already last year, and it’s quite tough to switch on the tyres.

“When you want to go out and immediately push it’s really difficult, and then with the interruptions and red flags like we had, you never really get into a rhythm.

“But we’ll look over the data tonight, see what we have to do for tomorrow, make the right choices, and I think the car will be competitive.”

Asked how his car felt, he replied: “I think it was alright. It’s a bit difficult to tell.

“I think we never really got into a window where I felt like we were on top of the tyres, so that’s a bit of studying to do for tonight, but it should be okay.”

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The good news for Verstappen’s fans is he’s feeling a lot better having been so ill he felt like he was “missing a lung” in the build-up to the previous race in Saudi Arabia.

“It seems alright now,” he said. “of course that’s what you want to feel like and very, very important going into the weekend.”

As for his team-mate Sergio Perez, he reckons between FP1’s red flags for the GPS and Logan Sargeant’s late crash and FP2’s rain, he’ll be going into Sunday’s race blind.

“I think tomorrow there’s plenty to do, too much to do in FP3, so I think we’re going to be somehow going a bit blind into the race, which should be interesting,” he said.