Max Verstappen’s defence of the World Championship suffered another big setback as he was forced to retire on lap 39 in Australia.
Running second throughout the race at Albert Park, the same position he had started on the grid, the Dutchman stopped with a sudden failure in his Red Bull.
Pulling over, Verstappen said over the team radio he could “smell weird fluid” and after jumping out of the car, quickly urged marshals to extinguish a small fire.
It was the second retirement in three races for the World Champion, who also exited late in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix won by Charles Leclerc.
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With the Ferrari driver comfortably leading for the entirety of the race in Melbourne from pole position and going on to win, it left Verstappen with a 46-point deficit to the Monegasque in the Drivers’ standings after only three grands prix.
Left second on the road, Sergio Perez, in the other Red Bull, asked what the problem had been for Verstappen.
“Don’t worry about Max, it’s not relevant for our car,” said Hugh Bird, the Mexican’s race engineer.
Understandably, Verstappen was far from pleased with that second costly DNF in three races, saying that it was “not acceptable” and warning that Red Bull can not expect to fight for the title unless they sort these reliability problems.
“Well we are already miles behind, so I don’t really even want to think about the Championship battle at the moment,” he said when asked of the importance of that DNF in the context of his season.
“I think it’s more important to finish races.
“Of course today was in general just a bad day again, and not really having the pace or even managing my tyres, trying to just bring it to the end because it looked like quite an easy P2 anyway and I knew that I could not fight Charles, so there was no point to try and put pressure on him.
“But yeah, we didn’t even finish the race so it’s pretty frustrating and not acceptable.
“These kind of things, if you want to fight for the title, it cannot happen.”
'Frustrating and unacceptable' race for Verstappen
Max Verstappen had his second retirement in three races and he wasn't happy, while Sergio Perez took P2 in Melbourne.