Red Bull’s Christian Horner says his team had no reliability concerns ahead of qualifying, revealing the reason for Max Verstappen’s gearbox change.
The reigning World Champion will start Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from 15th on the grid, having been knocked out in Q2 after being unable to put in a laptime due to a suspected driveshaft failure on his RB19.
Having set off on a flying lap, Verstappen’s revs shot up as he approached the fast hairpin at the furthest point on the circuit, slowing to a crawl as he gingerly made his way back to the pits to climb out – his qualifying session done with no chance of having the problem fixed in time to get back out.
Having dominated the weekend up through Friday’s practice sessions and on into Q1, the failure is a huge blow to Verstappen’s chances of adding to his 2023 win tally after claiming victory at the season opener in Bahrain.
Christian Horner: It’s a great shame for Max Verstappen
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner was left ruing the problem as he spoke to Sky F1 in the aftermath of the failure.
“Yes, that’s what it looks like at the moment,” he said when asked to confirm if it was a driveshaft failure.
“We’ve obviously got to get into the car and see exactly what’s happened. It’s a great shame because that one lap he did in Q1 would still have put him fourth on the grid. But, nonetheless, we’ve got a quick race car and I’m sure he’ll race quickly tomorrow.”
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Verstappen had been fitted with a completely new gearbox cassette and ancillaries after Friday’s practice sessions, having been heard complaining about long downshifts into the slow corners during FP2 – a seemingly precautionary measure. But Horner explained that the gearbox change, which moved Verstappen onto two used gearboxes out of a permitted four for his season allocation, was actually strategic.
“[Reliability] wasn’t a concern coming into the race,” he said.
“It was just part of our strategy of introducing parts into the pool, but something obviously has happened there and we need to get to the bottom of it and understand it and try to ensure that it doesn’t happen tomorrow.”
Christian Horner: Max and the car have been on fire all weekend
While Verstappen starts the race from a distant 15th, there’s still a realistic chance of victory for the Dutch driver given the pace advantage enjoyed by Red Bull at a track that encourages overtaking. Horner said any chance of a Verstappen recovery will require a patient drive.
“It’s a tough race here. It’s a matter of staying out of trouble,” he said.
“There’s going to be plenty of action, plenty of carnage, and it should provide an exciting race hopefully. It’s great for Checo [Perez] and important to convert that so we’re gonna have two different races going on in the Grand Prix tomorrow.
“It’s only the second race so it’s a great shame [for Max]. It’s really frustrating, the car has been on fire all weekend. Max, as well, every session has been very quick so let’s see how he races tomorrow. It’s gonna be a busy race for him, but we’ve got good straight-line speed. We’ve got a good race car so let’s see what we can do.”