Max Verstappen denies sandbagging claims amid suspicion from George Russell

Henry Valantine
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, in Melbourne qualifying. Australia, April 2023.

Max Verstappen drives for Red Bull in qualifying. Melbourne April 2023.

Max Verstappen has said Red Bull were managing their pace over tyre life concerns in Australia, as it was “not necessary” to risk the hard tyres wearing out on Sunday.

The early red flag stoppage in Melbourne prompted a mass change of rubber across the grid onto hard tyres, which tyre manufacturer Pirelli had anticipated as being capable of up to 35 to 40 laps, when 49 were left on the clock at the time of the race restarting.

Verstappen had sailed past Lewis Hamilton and into the lead of the race by lap 12 and opened up a 10-second gap at the front, with a minor off at the penultimate corner being the only blip in his afternoon for the remainder of the race.

Mercedes driver George Russell believes that, even though Red Bull have a clear pace advantage over the rest of the field, they were deliberately holding back from their full potential in case the sport looks at curbing their dominance in future.

Verstappen brushed off any concern around that, and felt the pace he showed on Sunday was enough to see him over the line at Albert Park without the “risk” of pushing too hard on the tyres beyond the prescribed limits.

“I mean, I think anyway, there’s nothing really they can do,” Verstappen said to the BBC’s Chequered Flag podcast when asked if he’s holding pace back so the sport’s top brass do not put rules in place to hinder Red Bull’s progression.

“I mean, we just try to do the best we can with the development of the car, but it’s also about pace management, because we didn’t really know – I think no-one really knew – how long that hard tyre would last.

“So it’s about just bringing it home because we had a bit of pace I think over the others, and there’s no need to try and gain half a second a lap and destroy your tyres to the end because you never know, a Safety Car can happen, red flags, like we had today. So yeah, it’s not necessary to risk all that.” recommends

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Verstappen was beaten off the line by Russell into Turn 1 at the initial start, with both Mercedes drivers keeping the Red Bull at bay in the opening laps of the race.

But with Russell falling away after an ill-timed red flag following his first pit stop, Verstappen was able to breeze by Hamilton on the way up to Turn 9 on the 12th lap of the race, with a speed difference that left Hamilton surprised come the end of the race.

The reigning World Champion was bullish about Red Bull’s current dominance too, acknowledging the rest of the field knows which team has the advantage at the moment.

“We just didn’t have a good start, we didn’t choose the right procedure,” Verstappen said.

“I was just quite cautious as well, in the first lap. I didn’t want to risk getting damaged and the cars behind me were really aggressive which [is] fair enough, you know, they knew they were not quick enough, so the only chance they had was lap one and they took advantage of that.”

And when asked if the only chance teams have to pass him and Red Bull is off the line, he replied: “At the moment. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future races.”