Why Verstappen’s Red Bull caught fire and how he reacted

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You might think a driver who has won 19 of the last 20 Formula 1 grands prix would be heartbroken when his car caught fire and retired just four laps into the Australian Grand Prix.

But Max Verstappen cut a calm and measured figure in the Albert Park paddock after the race, doing his media rounds as if it was a vanilla pre-event Thursday media day.

So what was the problem that finally stopped the Verstappen/Red Bull juggernaut and caused his first retirement in two years?

“We could see in the data as soon as lights went off, the right rear brake just stuck on,” Verstappen explained to Sky Sports F1.

“The temperature just kept on increasing, it was basically driving with the handbrake on. I already felt car was really weird to drive in some corners. Very snappy.

“While [during] the laps to the grid, the car was really spot on. I was very happy with what we were doing. But that explains if brake was stuck on, that doesn’t help.”

There was not a hint of panic. When The Race asked him why he was so calm, Verstappen said: “Well it excites me in a way [but] of course I’d like to win.

“We had a lot of good races in a row, a lot of basically good reliability and I knew the day would come that you end up having a retirement and unfortunately that day was today.”

When it was put to him that this race marked the first time he and his former title adversary Lewis Hamilton (whose Mercedes engine failed in Melbourne) have both retired since their clash at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix, Verstappen laughed it off with a “s*** happens right?”.

“Of course I’m disappointed with not being able to finish the race because I think we could have a good shot at winning because the balance felt quite nice on laps to the grid,” he explained.

“I felt confident and a good improvement compared to what I felt in long runs I did in practice. But some things you can’t control.”

He said losing a chance to equal his own record for the most consecutive race wins “doesn’t really matter” and “as long as we win the championship, that’s the most important”.

Verstappen didn’t rush through his post-race interview and patiently took a multitude of variations of the same question.

On whether we can expect a similar post-Singapore fightback like the domination he inflicted on the field at Suzuka last year in response to the only non-Red Bull win of 2023, Verstappen said “No I know I’m confident with the car, I feel good especially yesterday [Saturday], we shouldn’t have been on pole but laps we did were really good.

“I just want to have a good weekend again and feel good with the car.”

He even had time to shrug off revealing any details about a potential Red Bull upgrade at the Japanese Grand Prix: “Well the colour will be the same. You will see.”

The consequences of Verstappen’s retirement are limited. His team-mate Sergio Perez’s underwhelming race means Verstappen still leads the world championship by four points over Charles Leclerc and five over Perez, with Melbourne winner Carlos Sainz’s Jeddah absence leaving him 11 adrift.

Red Bull will investigate the issue thoroughly before Suzuka and Verstappen has no doubt the issue will be squashed.

The strength of the RB20 will inevitably have helped Verstappen’s demeanour versus some of his previous DNFs.

Though he was passed on track by Sainz before retiring, his Red Bull was already wounded by that point. He knows he’s still got the best car in the field and one more than capable of assisting him to a fourth successive drivers’ championship. His title bid is not under threat like it potentially was when he retired from two of 2022’s first three races.

But it’s also a sign of his ever-growing maturity, a proper (successful) public test of his faith in the team and yet another thing to admire about F1’s elite driver.

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