“We have to start making the weekends less difficult” … “It’s just been incredibly messy. We just make it super difficult for ourselves” … “We basically failed on that side. You cannot afford it” … “We could have done a much better job today if we had a cleaner Friday”. There was a bit of a theme to Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen’s comments after Miami Grand Prix qualifying.
After the massive boost of an Imola victory that coincided with Charles Leclerc’s first major error of the season and gave Red Bull a positive momentum swing just as Ferrari seemed to be running away with the 2022 title fight, Verstappen starts behind both Ferraris on the Miami grid and is certain that’s because of a messy Friday on which he feels he only managed “four or five” worthwhile laps.
Following an early brush with the wall (before he did his best times) and with some high temperature readings, Red Bull carried out a precautionary gearbox change on Verstappen’s car after the opening practice session. That meant he joined practice two late, and then hit instant trouble on his out-lap. A hydraulic line had been fitted incorrectly, the problem manifesting itself first in heavy steering as the power steering failed and then in a rear brake fire as the problems impacted on the rear brake-by-wire system too.
“The whole day today we were still trying to learn to track trying to find a decent balance in the car,” said Verstappen after qualifying. “And actually to be that competitive in qualifying I was a bit surprised because it’s not an easy track to learn. “We have to start making the weekends less difficult because like this it’s always going to be tricky.” A gentle question about whether starting third might be an advantage over qualifying on the dirty side of the grid brought Verstappen straight back to his lack of running too.
“I haven’t even done a [practice] start so I don’t even know how that’s going to go!” he replied. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen any other starts and I honestly cannot tell you because I haven’t done a start on the left side or on the right-hand side, so… yeah. I mean, that just sums up my weekend: it’s just been incredibly messy. We just make it super difficult for ourselves.”
He said the fact Miami was a new track, and a street circuit with a difficult surface, made the lack of Friday running particularly costly – as did the fact Red Bull is up against an opponent in Ferrari that has barely missed a beat this season.
“Four or five laps yesterday, then you start today still learning the track, try to find a set-up because yesterday you have no clue what works, because there’s not really a lot of data to look at,” Verstappen continued. “And I’m of course still pleased to be in third position and actually be very close to the guys next to me but I think we can do so much better by just actually operate a bit cleaner and smoother.
“The car was fine, with the limited information we could gather. In qualifying, up to a certain point it was fine but then to actually really go to the limit and try to find a bit more time… “In Q3 I was still figuring out a lot of things in terms of braking and brake shapes and all these kinds of things, to try and be faster.” He added: “On a new track, like this, and a street circuit in general, because it’s very critical to just do laps and understand the car and get in a rhythm.
“Because on a normal track, it’s quite easy to get in a rhythm. On a street circuit, it’s a lot more difficult. And we basically failed on that side. “In general, we are experienced enough to catch up quite a lot of it, but to really fight against… especially against a strong team like that… you cannot afford it. “And of course, we still got close, but I think we could have done a much better job today if we had a cleaner Friday.” Despite all that, Verstappen had actually been ahead of the Ferraris on provisional pole going into the final minutes of Q3. Then a big twitch at Turn 5 on his last lap meant he had to abandon it and could only watch as Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz usurped him.
“A bit of a weird moment to lose the car but again, it’s just not really knowing the limits, I guess, and just trying a bit more,” Verstappen said. It’s worth adding, in case Verstappen comes across on paper as just ranting at his team, that immediately after that slide on his last lap he was on the radio to Red Bull apologetically saying “I f***ed it up”. The champion is not just lambasting those around him.
But the scruffy start to his Miami weekend is not in isolation. It follows the last-gasp retirements in Bahrain and Australia, and comes amid a trend of Verstappen being caught off-guard by how the Red Bull behaves on flying laps, which prompted his admission in Melbourne that he just wasn’t enjoying qualifying in this car.
The success of Imola, which came on a weekend of odd, picture-skewing, conditions, temporarily masks how ragged the start to Red Bull’s title defence has been. Perhaps understandably so: it was fully immersed in one of the most ferocious F1 championship fights of all time until the very last lap of the season, while reconfiguring its engine supply situation and trying to prepare for F1’s biggest-ever rule change. Its main 2022 rival only really had to focus on the last of those things in 2021, and it shows.
But across the team errors, reliability problems, his own mistakes and figuring out how to make the car behave predictably, Verstappen’s right that Red Bull really needs to find some efficient serenity to have any hope of capitalising on the ground it regained at Imola and putting Ferrari under proper pressure.