Fears that Max Verstappen will have to serve a grid penalty at some stage during the F1 2023 season have increased with the news of the Red Bull driver’s latest gearbox change ahead of the Miami Grand Prix.
Governing body the FIA has confirmed that Verstappen has moved on to his third gearbox of the campaign in Florida, just round five of a record 23-race season.
F1’s current rules state that each driver must only use four different gearboxes over the course of a season, with Verstappen facing a five-place grid penalty if he is required to use a fifth between now and the end of the season.
Of his fellow competitors, only Alpine driver Pierre Gasly has used more than two different gearboxes at this early stage of the season with Ferrari drivers Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, as well as AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries, on their second.
Gearboxes have been one of the few sources of frustration for Verstappen in the early months of 2023, with the reigning two-time World Champion nursing a six-point lead over Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez ahead of the Miami GP.
Following complaints of slow downshifts over team radio at the opening two rounds of the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Verstappen moved on to his second gearbox of the year in Jeddah, where a driveshaft problem saw him eliminated at the Q2 stage of qualifying.
With his drivers equal on two victories apiece following Perez’s win in Baku last weekend, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner admitted car reliability could prove to be a decisive element in the outcome of the World Championship.
According to Motorsport.com, he said: “At moment it’s the two of them [in the hunt].
“There’s a slight gap between the rest of the field, but there’s 19 more races to go and five sprint races.
“So there’s a huge amount of racing and a whole variance of different circuits to go through, so it could ebb and flow between the two of them.
“Reliability will be a key factor.”
A number of other drivers have switched to new components ahead of qualifying in Miami, with the aforementioned Sainz moving on to his second gearbox.
Lando Norris (McLaren), Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) and Alex Albon (Williams) have all changed power unit components, changing their energy stores and control electronics, but remain within their allowances for the season.
Leclerc remains the only driver to incur a component-related grid penalty in 2023, having served a 10-place grid top at the second race in Saudi Arabia.