Max Verstappen’s radio messages during third practice suggest Red Bull’s struggles for pace are genuine, and he’s not happy about it…
Having struggled for outright pace with an on-edge Red Bull on Friday, all eyes were on the championship leader to see whether the Dutch driver could spring back to the front in Saturday’s third practice session ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix.
While the early stages of the session suggested Red Bull had improved, Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez’s inability to keep pace with other drivers on the qualifying simulations quickly became evident as both radioed in their discontent.
Max Verstappen’s unhappy radio messages during FP3
Perez complained about the rear of his RB19 being unstable under braking, but Max Verstappen’s issues appeared to be stemming from a general unhappiness with how his car was changing gear.
Having fallen to almost seven-tenths of a second off the pace set by the fastest man – Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz – Verstappen got on the team radio to engineer Gianpiero Lambiase for an exchange that revealed all wasn’t well in the cockpit.
Max Verstappen: “These upshifts… s**t. I’m sorry. I cannot drive through these upshifts. What the f**k is this?”
Gianpiero Lambiase: “Understood. We were anticipating a comment. I’ll have a look and see if I can give you a switch position.
GP: “Box this lap. I’d like to test something on the upshifts.”
Verstappen pitted towards the end of the session and attempted another flying lap in the final minutes, showing some improvement as he climbed to fourth with a time three-tenths of a second off the pace.
GP: “Upshift feedback, please, Max?”
MV: “Maybe a little bit smoother. But miles off still. It’s just giving me instability. Not just on the upshifts, but also on the downshifts.
“I’m just struggling for rear grip. Did you see that last sector, I’m just drifting. If I compete in drifting, I might win the race.”
Bernie Collins: Red Bull might look to a softer shift in the gearbox
Speaking about Max Verstappen’s struggles with the gearbox following practice, Sky F1 pundit and former racer Danica Patrick commented on why the Dutch driver mightn’t be happy with the way his gearbox is affecting the handling of the RB19.
“He likes a car that is pretty pointy and, therefore, the back is light,” she said.
“If there’s anything that influences that more in that direction, it’s going to be really unsettling. So it’s obviously not just upshifts, it’s downshifting too, so just going to upset the car a lot for a guy that drives a car much more on the nose.”
Former F1 strategist and engineer Bernie Collins, now a pundit with Sky F1, revealed that Red Bull may look at the option of softening the gear changes – a move that would come with a performance trade-off.
“There are a lot of electronic changes they can make to the shifts, they can take them from this very harsh shift,” she said.
“But the thing with a harsh shift is, it’s very quick. So, actually, it doesn’t lose a lot of speed down the straight.
“If you go to a softer shift, that’s safer and will feel nicer in the car, but it will be slower. Fundamentally, the car will be slower on the straight. So that’s affecting the acceleration. But the most difficult thing in this example is the downshifts in the braking zone is so important here. So that’s probably all coming together and why we’re seeing the lockups.
“These gearboxes have been set up for ultimate performance. We have what’s called a seamless shift. So it’s actually always in a gear, it doesn’t go through neutral like you would in a road car, for example.
“But what they can do is they can start to soften it, so it’s not as quick. You see more of that sort of neutral period in between – slower on the straight, but it’s going to be more comfortable in the car.”