‘Strong suspicions’ about Red Bull that is ‘worrying for all the other teams’

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen climbs out of his RB20 in parc ferme

Was Max Verstappen holding back in Bahrain?

Despite doubling his race-winning margin from the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix to Saturday’s race, Harry Benjamin fears Max Verstappen in no way pushed his RB20 to its limits.

And that, he says, it “worrying” for Red Bull’s rivals, and F1 as a whole.

‘…and that is worrying for all the other teams’

Claiming pole position in what was a closer-than-expected qualifying session on Friday evening, Verstappen raced unchallenged from lights to flag to begin his title defence with a victory.

Such was the 26-year-old’s prowess that he won the race by 22s ahead of his team-mate Sergio Perez, almost doubling his 2023 winning margin of 11.9s.

But perhaps more concerning for Verstappen’s rivals is the suspicion that he didn’t even have to try very hard on Saturday.

Asked if Red Bull were ‘holding back’, F1 journalist Benjamin told the BBC’s Chequered Flag podcast: “I strongly suspect.

“I haven’t got evidence to back that up, I haven’t been up around into the garage, but there was strong speculation last season that they weren’t pushing to 100 percent either in the 2023 car. Why would Verstappen need to go all out?

“He does to get the fastest lap, but he doesn’t need to push all of the car’s components to the absolute limit across 57 laps of a Bahrain Grand Prix at the very start of this season.

“There’s no need to when he has so much pace in hand, even over his own team-mate. What was it? 20 or so seconds the gap.

“The only time he ever came close to a car was when he was lapping them. The pit stops were seamless, tyre degradation doesn’t touch him, and if it does, he doesn’t need to push the tyres to the full extent.

“There is more there and that is worrying for all the other teams, but I think it’s safe to say it’s worrying for sport this year.”

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Only ‘spec cars’ would curtail Adrian Newey’s brilliance

It begs the question will Formula 1 and the FIA step in to change the rules in some way to curb Red Bull’s advantage?

But according to Alice Powell, unless they introduce spec cars there’s no stopping the brilliant mind of Adrian Newey.

“We do often find that many times that a team sort of dominates,” she said, citing Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari’s strings of success.

“Adrian Newey is just really on it, his design and the mind of that guy is just so impressive.

“These designers, these engineers, they are so clever, and they work so hard not just here at track but everyone else at the factory as well at every single team – sometimes they’re working day and night just to improve to gain that 10th of a second

“So I think it doesn’t matter what they do in terms of limiting the rules and regulations.

“The only thing you could say, and it’s never going to happen, is like the junior categories where you just stick an engine in it, spec series it’s all the same, and it’s up to the driver. But of course that’s never gonna happen.”

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